ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe has invited all Tamil political parties to a discussion on issues faced by the Tamil community with a view to resolving them with no foreign intervention by the country’s 75th Independence Day.
Speaking in parliament on Thursday November 10, Wickremesinghe extended an open invitation to parties that represent the Tamil community in parliament to a discussion scheduled for next week to take up issues facing the Tamils and to “resolve these issues amicably without outside interference, prior to the 75th independence celebrations next year”.
According to reports, President Wickremesinghe is keen on prioritising reconciliation in Sri Lanka. The privately owned The Sunday Times reported on November 06 that a ministerial team is to be appointed to draw up the “broad outlines of what such a project should encompass”. This will later form the basis of discussions with all stakeholders, the English weekly reported.
The team will be headed by Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and will comprise Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda and Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe. The team will meet every Monday, immediately after the weekly cabinet session so it could finish its task early.
The Wickremesinghe administration has shown some interest in making progress on the reconciliation front, though critics say that progress has been slow with respect to issues such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), Sri Lanka’s controversial anti-terror law, resolution to missing persons’ cases and alleged land grab.
However, as Sri Lanka goes through its worst currency crisis in decades which sparked a wave of protests that saw the ouster of former President Gotabaya Rajajapaksa, the Wickremesinghe government has expressed interest in going ahead with a home-grown solution to the country’s national question.
These developments come in the wake of the tough new resolution passed on Sri Lanka by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Ahead of the UNHRC vote, Foreign Minister Sabry said a truth-seeking mechanism that’s acceptable to the international community will be established after a report has been submitted by a presidential commission of inquiry.
In his speech in parliament on Thursday, President Wickremesinghe noted that his cabinet will present new laws to parliament early next year on the proposed Truth & Reconciliation Commission, a new Counter Terrorism Act and new legislation against corruption.
“We’re also discussing the problems faced by the people in the North.
“We have already released some prisoners. There are more to be released,” he said, adding that a national award-winning Tamil writer who has been behind bars for 16 years under provisions of the PTA may also be extended that relief if he is found guilty in an ongoing case.
“We’re talking with the foreign minister and the former president. We want to solve this problem,” he said.
Wickremesinghe said 2,000 files on missing persons have been completed so far.
“We’re willing to appoint more panels to start inquiries. That’s the only way that we can get them. Next week we’ll have a discussion with the MPs from the north on the procedure.
“I hope my good friend (opposition MP) Gajen Ponnalabam will also join us. If we go even half way, it’ll be a victory,” said Wickremesinghe.
The president said his government also has plans for economic development in the north and the east that were ravaged by 26 years of war between government forces and the separatist Tamil Tigers.
“I’m getting an assessment done of the renewable energy potential in the north and the possibility of green hydrogen. You get green hydrogen on a competitive basis, your whole northern economy comes up. We have to look into this. The bulk of our renewable energy will be from Puttalam to Trincomaleee,” he said.
In February this year, the Ministry of Energy in the then government hired Greenstat Hydrogen India (Pvt) Ltd, a unit of Greeenstat AS, Norway to study the use of hydrogen for transport.
“There are other developments. In Trinco, and down to the east for tourism; a fair number of developments that we want to do,” Wickremesinghe added.
The president said his government is determined to resolve the crisis by February next year. Experts who have studied Sri Lanka’s long-running ethnic conflict say it is a complex, multidimensional political issue and it is unclear how grievances of the Tamil community, particularly from the last phase of the war, can be resolved in such a short time.
“We want to settle this. All of us are Sri Lankans. So let us all get together and make it a point…
“We want to resolve this issue by our 75th independence. No one wants interference in this country. We can resolve our issues and go forward, and that is our plan,” said Wickremesinghe. (Colombo/Nov10/2022)