TNA Delegation meets Sri Lanka Prez, breaks ice
Colombo, 08 September, (Asiantribune.com): For the first time after the end of the fourth Wanni war, a delegation of Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MPs called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his advisors and discussed a host of issues related to IDP camps and resettlement. ‘The talks were held satisfactory’, said N Srikantha MP, who was part of the TNA delegation. In an exclusive chat with Asian Tribune after the meeting, he did not see anything wrong on TNA MPs talking to the Prez.
‘Sri Lanka government is our government. When you talk of one country, then you have only one government. We may have differences of views but the government will be only one. So we went to talk about the IDPs problem. It is core of our national problem’, he said.
As expected the TNA delegation pressed for quick resettlement of IDPs. The government explained to them the logistics involved and promised them of their best to meet the six-month deadline.
The government side also appears satisfied at the outcome of the meeting. The President Rajapaksa was quoted as telling them ‘Now that we have started talking, we have to build trust and confidence’
TNA leaders now plan to meet other government leaders like Basil Rajapakse, Gothbaya Rajapakse and the Governor of the Northern Province.
Excerpts from the interview :
Asian Tribune: How was the meeting (with the President)? Any decisions reached?
N. Srikantha, M.P: Well, we did not come to any decision. We discussed mainly matters related to the Internally Displaced Person. Also about the situation in the North and East. I can say we had satisfactory discussions (with the President) for over three hours. We have to follow up on our discussions in the very near future.
Asian Tribune: How strong was your delegation? How many of you, your Party Members of Parliament went for the meeting?
N. Srikantha, M.P: 7 of us went for the meeting
Asian Tribune: Who are they?
N. Srikantha, M.P: R.Sampanthan led the delegation. Suresh K.Premachandran, Mavai Senathirajah, N. Sivasakthee Ananthan, Thangeswari Kathiraman and Raseen Mohammed Imam were there. Of course, I was there too at the talks.
Asian Tribune: Who was on the other side with the President?
N. Srikantha, M.P: There were three. Minister Susil Premajayanth, senior Advisor to the President, MP Basil Rajapaksa and Minister Abdul Risath Bathiyutheen assisted the President.
Asian Tribune: What did you discuss? I mean the main subject…
N. Srikantha, M.P: We discussed mostly about the IDPs
Asian Tribune: What did you tell the Prez? What was his response? On the IDPs issue
N. Srikantha, M.P: How can I tell you all the things? We were talking for three hours. We discussed so many aspects. Not one or two
Asian Tribune: Tell us the basic thrust of your discussions with the President?
N. Srikantha, M.P: Broadly speaking, well, resettlement was the main focus. We also discussed many other issues connected with the present plight and the future welfare of the IDPs.
Asian Tribune: What about quick settlement of IDPs, as everyone wants these days?
N. Srikantha, M.P: Yes, we raised this issue. We insisted that the Government must resettlement of IDPs. But it appears it is not possible to resettle these people very quickly. The Prez explained to us this. He said in the prevailing conditions, resettlement will take time. He asked us to have some patience.
Asian Tribune: What about visiting IDP camps? Have you raised the issue? Did you tell the government whether you wanted to visit the camps?
N. Srikantha, M.P: Yes. We raised this point. They (the government side) said they will consider our request to visit the camps.
Asian Tribune: What are your plans to help the IDPs? As TNA MP?
N. Srikantha, M.P: Well. We have some plans, some ideas. It will take some time to crystallize them. We will tell you once we chart out programme.
Asian Tribune: Going to back to resettlement, how many thousands the Government said that they are going to resettle immediately?
N. Srikantha, M.P: Immediately in the sense, already they have resettled about 10,000 people in Trincomalee and Jaffna. Also in the Vanni district, Mannar area and so on. The government side said they are working to a time frame. They spoke of a 180-day plan.
Asian Tribune: Already, half-way mark is crossed; 90-days are over.
N. Srikantha, M.P: Our impression is government is conscious of it. They are trying to push things. The President told us that Basil Rajapaksa is confident of resettling all of the IDPs. But my gut feeling is by the end of six-month deadline, anywhere from 60 to 80 per cent of the displaced families would be able to lead a new life.
Asian Tribune: What about de-mining. Is it true that UNHCR should certify that a place is cleared of land mines before people could be moved to such place
N. Srikantha, M.P: Yes. It is true. UNHCR should give the certificate that a place is cleared of land mines and it is safe for resettlement. Who will take the risk, you see.
Asian Tribune: What about facilities for the people in the camps. Did the issue come up? Have you asked the government about their efforts to improve living conditions ....
N. Srikantha, M.P: Well, we all know that despite of the effort of the government there are shortcomings that is why we need the IDPs to be resettled soon
Asian Tribune: Did you point out anything? Regarding the toilet facilities? We hear there is only one toilet for every 200 persons there in the camps?
N. Srikantha, M.P: The Government knows this. There was no need for us to specially point out. We discussed this issue and several other related issues. Let us remember one thing. IDP camps are not homes. These are temporary arrangements. As long IDPs live in the camps, they will have some difficulty, some hardship. The government is trying to mitigate the hardships. Our worry is once the rainy season comes, the IDPs will have more problems. We voiced our concerns to the President and his advisors. Frankly, it is not a problem of the government alone. We must raise above politics and interact with the government for the good of the IDPs.
Asian Tribune: If you stance is Sri Lankan government is your government then you have to talk to the government.
N. Srikantha, M.P: Yes. This is what we are doing. When you talk of one country, then you have only one government
Asian Tribune: Do you say “Sri Lanka government is our government?”
N. Srikantha, M.P: Any government, you may not like that government but that is your government, our government.
Asian Tribune: As you are members of parliament of Sri Lanka, you have every right to discuss, argue or demand for the well being of the people you all represent.
N. Srikantha, M.P: Absolutely right. That is the democratic way. We are just doing that. We raised the issue of Kanagarathnam, the TNA MP, who is being held in the camp. We clearly told the President that he has not done anything unlawful. As far as we are concerned he is innocent. We urged the President to release him, to let him perform his democratic obligations to the people who have elected him.
Asian Tribune: What was the response …
N. Srikantha, M.P: We are told Kanagarathnam’s son was involved; nothing specifically was mentioned. The Prez said he remains a suspect. I said that why hold the father for the faults of the son. Whatever be the commissions and omission held against the son, these should not affect the father.
Asian Tribune: Have you appealed to the President in writing on behalf of the TNA to release Kanagarathnam?
N. Srikantha, M.P: We only represented the case to him. Orally. We will follow up with a written appeal. I hope the government will release him. Today, at the end of our meeting, as we were leaving, I again requested the President to look into the matter. I am hopeful that Kanagarathnam will be released. If that is done then we will have a positive vibes between us and the government.
Asian Tribune: What about Sivajilingham MP?
N. Srikantha, M.P: We did not talk (about him). There is nothing against him. If he wants he can return to the country.
Asian Tribune: What next…
N. Srikantha, M.P: You see, this is not the first meeting (with the President)…But it marked a good beginning. President said that now we have started talking then we have to build trust and confidence. We have to create an atmosphere where we have to build trust and confidence. We have to follow up (on the discussions). Then we can have the meeting with Basil Rajapakse. I told the Governor of the Northern Province that we will meet him as well as Basil Rajapakse. And we should meet with Defence Secretary Gothbaya Rajapakse also.
The IDPs problems are the core of National problem. We all must solve it. Frankly, as I said at the very out set, today’s meeting was on a positive note. It will create a positive atmosphere.
I spoke out one small gesture that will create more goodwill. I said why not reduce the number of check points in Jaffna, Where there are seven in a junction, why not reduce them to just one. See how much relief it will provide to the people and the amount of goodwill it generate.
- Asian Tribune -