Muslims oppose bid to remerge North and East, Minister tells party leaders

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President Wickremesinghe speaking with Dharmalingham Siddarthan, Angajan Ramanathan, M. A. Sumanthiran and R. Sampanthan (seated) at the All Party Conference (pic courtesy PMD)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Environment Minister Nazeer Ahamed told an all-party conference chaired by President Ranil Wickremesinghe, at the Presidential Secretariat, on Tuesday (13), that the Muslims were opposed to the re-merger of the Eastern and Northern Provinces.

The former Chief Minister of the Eastern Province said, responding to several lawmakers, including Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader, Rauf Hakeem, reiterating the urgent need to conduct the Provincial Council polls and the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

The East was merged with the North in terms of the Indo-Lanka Accord, signed in July 1987. The Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling, invalidated the North-East merger, in Oct 2006.

Minister Ahamed recalled how the Muslim community suffered during the time of the merger. Ahamed, who contested the last General Election on the SLMC ticket, accepted the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s offer of the Environment Portfolio, in April this year. The Batticaloa district lawmaker retained the same portfolio when President Ranil Wickremesinghe named his Cabinet in July.

Both Hakeem and Thamil Makkal Thesiya Kutani leader, C.V. Wigneswaran, strongly pressed for the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

Political party sources said that senior representatives discussed issues at hand after Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, and Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, briefed the grouping of ongoing efforts to reach consensus on post-war national reconciliation. Sabry has emphasized that recommendations meant at reconciliation should be in line with the Constitution whereas Rajapakse explained the progress in the payment of compensation et al. The gathering was also briefed of the moves to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) with a new security law acceptable to all.

Responding to The Island, sources said that the economic crisis hadn’t been addressed at this confab where President Wickremesinghe sought the views of political parties, represented in Parliament, regarding the national issue.

The JVP skipped the meeting. Among the notable absentees were Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila of Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya, while Prof. G. L. Peiris represented Nidahas Lanka Sabhawa. Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and several other MPs, including R. Sampanthan and M.A. Sumanthiran, were present.

Leader of civil society group, Yuthukama, Gevindu Cumaratunga, MP, has pointed out how those who had been demanding Provincial Council polls intentionally threw their weight behind the Yahapalana project to indefinitely put off the PC elections.

Reiterating his long standing opposition to PCs that had been introduced, via the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that was literally forced on Sri Lanka, along with the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987, rebel SLPP National List MP who has aligned with Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya, said they feared to face the electorate at that time.

Referring to the constant demand for devolution of powers and special status to the Northern and Eastern Provinces, lawmaker Cumaratunga expressed concern over denial of students the right to study law in Sinhala and Tamil.

The outspoken MP has also raised the contentious issue of President Wickremesinghe holding the Finance portfolio, in addition to Defence and a couple of other subjects, pending new Cabinet appointments. Referring to the discussions, chaired by Wickremesinghe, in his capacity as the Premier a couple of months ago, MP Cumaratunga said that some asserted that the President shouldn’t hold ministerial portfolios. But, some including the Yuthukama representative, felt the President should hold the Defence portfolio. MP Cumaratunga said that having reached some sort of consensus on the matter during talks on the 22nd Amendment, the President now held the vital Finance portfolio, a move that was contrary to the promise to strengthen Parliament.

Referring to the Supreme Court ruling that the President couldn’t be deprived of holding ministerial portfolios, without that action being sanctioned at a referendum, MP Cumaratunga said that ruling didn’t prevent the President from giving up ministerial portfolios.

SJB MP Patali Champika Ranawaka explained that the executive could address some of the issues raised by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). The leader of the 43 Brigade said that problems relating to land, compensation and disappearances could be dealt with by the executive. However, the devolution of power should be addressed by the Parliament, the former Minister said.

Courtesy The Island

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Disclaimer: Muslims oppose bid to remerge North and East, Minister tells party leaders - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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