India should help Rajapaksa solve Tamil problem: EROS leader

February 23rd, 2008 - 9:57 am ICT by admin  

By P.K. Balachandran
Colombo, Feb 23 (IANS) A top leader of a Sri Lankan Tamil political party has said President Mahinda Rajapaksa is eager to solve the long-standing ethnic problem in Sri Lanka and has appealed to India to help him in the task. “We have no doubt that Rajapaksa wants to solve the problem. His sincerity is evident in his practical approach to the question,” said Rajanathan Prabaharan, general secretary of the Eelavar Democratic Front (EDF), the political wing of the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS), a Sri Lankan Tamil militant group that had given up arms to join the democratic mainstream.

“Instead of thrusting his ideas on the country, Rajapaksa formed an all-party committee to go into the question of power devolution. And what the committee had suggested - the full implementation of the existing provisions of the constitution relating to devolution of power - is the most practical yet,” Prabaharan told IANS over the phone from Batticaloa, where he is a candidate for the post of town mayor in the local body elections March 10.

He said the president’s policy was to go step by step and that was the only way for the Tamils to go forward.

“Most Sri Lankan parties are ready to support the president on the ethnic issue. In fact, only two oppose him in this matter - the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) on the Tamil side, and the JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna) on the Sinhalese side. But if India were to throw its weight behind Rajapaksa, these extremist elements can be marginalized,” the EDF leader said.

“We believe that there can be no settlement of the Tamil question without India playing a key role,” he stressed.

In fact, India had an unfinished task to complete, he held.

“After all, it was India which had laid the foundation for a settlement through the India-Sri Lanka Accord in 1987, which devolved some power to the Tamil-speaking northeastern province. But the task has remained unfinished. India has the responsibility to complete it,” he argued.

Asked what India could do specifically, Prabaharan said: “India should see to it that the powers devolved by law are actually given. India should also take the matter further from where it left it in 1987.”

India and Sri Lanka had signed an accord in 1987 envisaging devolution of power to the Sri Lankan provinces including a united Tamil-speaking province in the northeast.

The Sri Lankan parliament subsequently brought in the 13th amendment to the constitution and passed the provincial councils act. But the provisions of the amendment and the act were not fully implemented for 20 years. Rajapaksa now wants to implement them fully, while a fresh devolution package is being worked out by the All Party Representative Committee (APRC).

In the midst of an electoral battle in eastern Batticaloa district where the EDF is contesting for seven Pradeshiya Sabhas and the Batticaloa town municipality, Prabaharan said the war-weary people of the area had to be persuaded to take the elections seriously.

Once EROS’ military commander for Batticaloa and Amparai districts, the 42-year-old Prabaharan is now firmly wedded to peace and peaceful politics.

EROS broke into two in the late 1980s, with one group led by V. Balakumar casting its lot with the LTTE and its armed struggle, and other led by (the late) Shankar Rajee striking an independent and non-violent path. Prabaharan has been with the Shankar Rajee faction, contesting parliamentary elections and serving as a member of the Batticaloa municipal council over the years.

Prabaharan said he was ready to lay down his life if that would help bring peace to the Tamils, but the fact was that his death would not bring peace.

“If the LTTE wants to kill me it is only because EDF/EROS is gaining support among the people. Our platform of peace, political participation and economic development is attracting popular support,” he claimed.

Electoral office would give his party the wherewithal to do constructive work for the people, Prabaharan said.

“Our concentration will be on resettlement and rehabilitation of those displaced during the military operations in 2006 and 2007. We will also put a complete stop to child abductions, abduction of rich businessmen for ransom, and the general culture of violence,” he said.

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