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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2704

Government to offer shortly a political settlement based on “southern consensus” – Minister Rohitha Bogollagama,

Colombo, 15 November, (Asiantribune.com): Government of Sri Lanka is not seeking a military solution to the present conflict, and that the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) had come a long way in evolving a “southern consensus” on the political settlement that would be offered. Rohitha Bogollagama, Sri Lanka’s Minister for Foreign Affairs further pointed out that the current preoccupation with the budget debate has necessitated a slight delay, and no sooner this period concludes in mid December, a political settlement will be finalised.

In a statement made by Rohitha Bogollagama at the adjournment debate in Sri Lanka Parliament on 14th November he further said that it should be remembered that the political proposals to be announced, are not only to satisfy the LTTE, but to safeguard the interest of all communities in Sri Lanka. While the government was hopeful that the LTTE would use this opportunity to return to the negotiating table, the growing alternate Tamil voices both within Sri Lanka and the diaspora abroad needs greater recognition of the international community. It was noted that already 54% of the Tamils in Sri Lanka live in areas outside the northern and the eastern provinces in harmony with the Sinhalese, Muslims and other communities.

Detailing the measures taken by the government to institute inquiries into the alleged human rights violations, noted that the government was committed to punish who ever was found guilty of committing such offences.

He referred to the recent statement issued by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils (APPG-T) condemning the killing of Thamilchelvam and expressing sympathy, observed that it would seem inappropriate that at this time when there was growing consensus on the need to eradicate terrorism worldwide, that members of the British Parliament were expressing condolences on the demise of the second highest ranking leader of the LTTE – a proscribed terrorist organisation in the UK.

Here is the full text of the statement in points, by Rohitha Bogollagama, Sri Lanka’s Minister for Foreign Affairs at the adjournment debate in Parliament on 14th November.

1. I have just returned from London where I attended the extraordinary meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) convened by the Commonwealth Secretary General on Monday to primarily decide on “Developments in Pakistan”. Foreign Ministers from Lesotho, Malaysia, Malta, Sri Lanka and the UK and representatives of Canada, Papua New Guinea, St. Lucia and Tanzania participated in the session. I must say that Sri Lanka was able to play a pivotal role in ensuring that no precipitous action was taken with regard to Pakistan. Following extensive deliberations which lasted almost 5 hours, the CMAG succeeded in arriving at a formula which can be put to test, in terms of the progress Pakistan makes in fulfilling its obligations in accordance with Commonwealth principles. Conscious of the complexities Pakistan presently faces in maintaining stability while ensuring liberty and security, Sri Lanka expressed the need to give Pakistan more time to demonstrate progress. Our position taken at this meeting was greatly influenced by the fact that Sri Lanka was keen to ensure the continuous stability of Pakistan, which is vital for regional stability in South Asia and would assist in enabling the opportunity for greater dialogue within the polity of Pakistan.

2. As for the motion before us today regarding the commemoration event for Tamilchelvam in London, I wish to make the following observations:

* Two commemorative events took place in London to mark the death of S P Tamilselvam and five others.

* On Sunday 4/11 a religious ceremony to commemorate the death of S P Thamilselvam and the five LTTE cadres killed was held at the Sri Katpahavinayagar Temple in Tooting in South West London. This event was mainly a religious ritual with no speeches etc and was attended by a few devotees.

* The main event of remembrance was organized by a committee comprising several Tamil groups and with the support of some British local councilors (who are Sri Lankan Tamils) at the Harrow Leisure Centre in North West London on Monday 5/11 from 6-9 pm.

* Harrow is an area where there is a large concentration of Sri Lankan Tamils and four elected Borough Councilors (equivalent of Municipal Councilors) from the Tamil community in this Borough.

These Councilors have been in the forefront of organizing LTTE related activities. The Harrow Leisure Centre where the event was held is a hall that belongs to the local Borough Council and used for public events.

* Posters advertising this event were displayed in shops owned by the Tamil community most of which showed these dead LTTE cadres in civilian dress.

* Nearly 2,000 people attended the commemorative event. The programme comprised placing of floral tributes before the photographs of these deceased LTTE cadres and speeches recalling mainly Thamilselvam’s role as a peace negotiator for the LTTE.

* Among the prominent speakers were the TNA MPs, Mr Gajendra Kumar Ponnambalam, Mrs Padmini Sithambaranathan, Mr Vino Nohotharalingam and Mr Rajan Ethiveerasingham representing TRO Sri Lanka.

The speakers from the UK were all British Sri Lankans – Dr N Sathiyamoorthy, a trustee of the White Pigeon Charity, Mrs Anandi Sooriyapragasam a former head of BBC Tamil Service.

* Mrs. Adele Balasingham also participated and placed a floral tribute.

* It is noted that relatives and family members of the deceased LTTE cadres garlanded the photographs. This included one Mrs Mohanadas, sister of Maj Mithuthan.

* A statement issued by the All Party Group for Tamils was also read. This statement condemned the killings and expressed sympathy.

* No British MPs, Councillors or prominent persons participated.

* UK Police authorities, who were notified by the Sri Lanka High Commission in advance of the event, summoned the organizers and gave them strict guidelines in accordance with the law. In these context LTTE emblems, flags or photos of the LTTE leader were not to be displayed, though it was observed that red & yellow colors had been used for décor in the hall.

* The event was restricted to strictly identified people.

* High Commission has already obtained video footage of sections of the event and is carrying out a detailed analysis before handing over scripts to police authorities to assess whether the organizers or speakers could be prosecuted under UK Terrorism legislation.

* It is noted from Tamil television coverage that similar events held in other parts of Europe and North America were in a much larger scale and that the event in the UK was a comparatively smaller event.

3. As it had been previously made known an adjournment debate on “British government’s assistance for support in Sri Lanka” was also listed to have been taken up for discussion on Tuesday (yesterday) in the British House of Commons. However, this debate did not take place, as the Liberal Democratic Party member Hon. Simon Hughes was not present in the House, due to personal reasons.

4. In anticipation of this debate and to provide an update on developments in Sri Lanka, I had also arranged to use my presence in London, to meet with the Minister of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs Lord Malloch Brown, as well as the Shadow Foreign Ministers of the opposition -namely the Conservative Party Shadow Minister for Trade & Foreign Affairs Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown and the Liberal Democratic Party Mr. Michael Moore, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence of the Conservative Party Dr Liam Fox, the Co-Chair of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Sri Lanka, Andrew Love of the Labour Party and Barry Gardiner, a member of the group, also of the Labour Party. The basis for identifying these personalities was as they represented those charged with the subject of foreign affairs across party lines in the British Parliament, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Sri Lanka (APPG-SL) and those representing constituencies that had a large Sri Lankan diaspora in their constituencies.

5. In our discussion the following positions concerning Sri Lanka were made by my interlocutors:

* It must be was emphasised that the three parties are in agreement of the serious threat posed by LTTE terrorism, to Sri Lanka.

* Thus also recognised the need for the speedy agreement for a political settlement to the present conflict and that the Sri Lankan political parties must shun differences to unite on this issue.

* Perception, through statements emanating from Colombo suggested that Sri Lanka seems to be seeking a military solution to the conflict, which is unsustainable. Since a large active Tamil diaspora in the UK shares this view, it has come to be reflected in the representations of the MPs on behalf of their constituents.

* Referring to a past debate on Sri Lanka held in May 2007 it was noted that even front bench MPs had not reflected accurately their party positions and were swayed by the pressures of their constituents. Political party leaderships are unable to dictate positions to be taken by MPs but give them guidelines as UK is a vibrant democracy.

* There was also much concern expressed on alleged human rights violations and a climate of impunity in Sri Lanka and the perception that government was not taking adequate and speedy action to remedy this situation.

6. I made it clear to all representatives met the following points:

* Reassured that the Government of Sri Lanka is not seeking a military solution to the present conflict, and that the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) had come a long way in evolving a “southern consensus” on the political settlement that would be offered. Pointed out the current preoccupation with the budget debate has necessitated a slight delay, and no sooner this period concludes in mid December, a political settlement will be finalised.

* It should be remembered that the political proposals to be announced, are not only to satisfy the LTTE, but to safeguard the interest of all communities in Sri Lanka. While the government was hopeful that the LTTE would use this opportunity to return to the negotiating table, the growing alternate Tamil voices both within Sri Lanka and the diaspora abroad needs greater recognition of the international community. It was noted that already 54% of the Tamils in Sri Lanka live in areas outside the northern and the eastern provinces in harmony with the Sinhalese, Muslims and other communities.

* Detailing the measures taken by the government to institute inquiries into the alleged human rights violations, noted that the government was committed to punish who ever was found guilty of committing such offences.

* Referring to the recent statement issued by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils (APPG-T) condemning the killing of Thamilchelvam and expressing sympathy, observed that it would seem inappropriate that at this time when there was growing consensus on the need to eradicate terrorism worldwide, that members of the British Parliament were expressing condolences on the demise of the second highest ranking leader of the LTTE – a proscribed terrorist organisation in the UK.

* Emphatically appealed for British MPs not to queer the pitch by making such statements, largely based on propaganda of the LTTE, as this makes it more difficult in the task of the Sri Lanka Government bringing about a consensus with other political parties within Sri Lanka to end the conflict and also engaging with the international communities towards this end.

- ASian Tribune -

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