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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2557

Merger of the north and east provinces ended yesterday: Tiger violence the main cause

Colombo, 02 January, ( The temporary merger of the north and east provinces, which lasted 16 years, ended yesterday. Rear Admiral Mohan Wijeyawickrema, who was earlier the Governor of the merged Northeast Provincial Council, began his new duties as the Governor of the Eastern Province on January 1, 2007.

Rear Admiral Mohan Wijeyawickrema told the Asian Tribune that the unanimous verdict of the Supreme Court delivered on 16th October last year made the demerger inevitable.

Before the ruling of the Supreme Court there was provision in the Provincial Councils Act of 1987 for the President to merge both provinces by Proclamation if he was satisfied that all arms and ammunition held by the militant groups had been surrendered and there has been a cessation of acts of violence. But the escalation of Tiger violence prevented the presidents from making the temporary merger permanent.

The Indo Sri Lanka Accord signed by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India and President J.R. Jayawardene of Sri Lanka, on the 29th of July 1987, acknowledged that the northern and eastern provinces 'have been areas of historical habitation' of the Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka. This wording has a political significance because it does not confirm the claim of the separatist platform that it is "the traditional homeland of the Tamils".

The Act also contained provisions for a referendum to be held only in the eastern province to determine whether the people of the eastern province wanted a merger with the Northern Province. This too has a political significance because the referendum was specific only to the eastern province recognizing that the people of the east were a distinct community from the northern Tamils.

Accordingly, if the people of the eastern province voted against a linkage, then the merger will be terminated. But if the people of the eastern province voted for a linkage with the Northern Province, a poll would not be required to determine the wishes of the people in the Northern Province.

The Provincial Councils Act rightly assumes that the Tamil people living in the Northern Province want a merger with the eastern province and that a poll would be superfluous. By this provision the Act has rejected the separatists claim that the Tamils living in the eastern province are an integral part of the Tamil people living in the north.

The issue of referendum was never taken up by the Sri Lanka Government as Tamil Tigers reneged its undertaking to surrender its weapons and enter the mainstream politics of the country.

However, successive presidents and the governments continued to maintain the temporary merger of the two provinces by annually validating it through a Gazette notification until the merger was challenged in the Supreme Court by the JVP. The Supreme Court held that two mandatory conditions -- 1) surrender of arms and 2) cessation of hostilities -- that led to the Proclamation of the merger had not been satisfied.

The Supreme Court ruled: "The Proclamation made by the then President declaring that the Northern and Eastern Provinces shall form one administrative unit has been made when neither of the conditions specified in the Section 37 (1)(b) of the Provincial Councils Act No. 42 of 1987 as to the surrender of weapons and the cessation of hostilities, were satisfied. Therefore, the order must necessarily be declared invalid since it infringes the limits which Parliament itself had ordered."

Political analysts agree that this is another instance where the indiscriminate violence of the Tamil Tigers has proved to be a negative factor undermining the earlier gains of the Tamils. The other major negative factor is the reaction of the international community which has banned the Tamil Tigers for violating human rights and international humanitarian laws.

The Supreme Court also held that the Emergency Regulations under which the then President made the purported Amendment to the Provincial Councils Act leading to the Proclamation was ultra vires and in excess of the powers of the President.

The Bench comprised Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva PC and Justices Nihal Jayasinghe, N.K. Udalagama, Raja Fernando and Nimal Gamini Amaratunga.

Subsequently in the last Budget for 2007 Sri Lanka Government voted funds separately to the demerged provinces of north and east.
When Asian Tribune contacted Rear Admiral Mohan Wijeyawickrema, former Govrenor of the defunct north and east Provincial Council, told that he has been sworn in as the Governor of the eastern province. He has also been asked to look after the Northern Province temporarily.

He said at present the exercise of splitting the merged Councils into two separate administrative units is going on and the existing staffs are being apportioned to the two separate secretariats. Asked about the appointments of two separate Chief Secretaries to the two demerged provinces, he said that no appointments have been made yet and only the President has the powers to make the appointments.

He also said that eastern provincial Council would continue to function from Trincomalee and there is no question of shifting the Provincial Council secretariat to any other part of the province. In the case of Northern Province Secretariat, Rear Admiral Mohan Wijeyawickrema said temporarily it will continue to function from Trincomalee until such time a suitable location in the north is found. He said he personally think that Northern Provincial Council Secretariat may be located in Vavuniya.

He said that he has taken up the issue of voting additional funds for Northern Province, other than that was allocated in the last budget for 2007.

He stated that additional funds are needed to re-locate the Northern Province Provincial Council and also for the recruitment of additional staff.

- Asian Tribune -

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