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Meeting with Hon. Robert Keith Rae, Chairman - Committee for an International Forum of Federations on the Sri Lankan Peace

Honourable Ministers, Members of Parliament, and Editors,

A delegation from our association met with the Honourable Bob Rae, former Federal M.P and Premier of the Province of Ontario, who is the current Chairman of the Committee for an International Forum of Federations, in Toronto on September 30, 2002. Our delegation was comprised of Lucky de Silva, Secretary, Ranjeeva Samaranayake, V.P., Daya Hettiarachchi, Past Secretary, Lionel Dissanayake, Past V.P., Ms. Irangani de Silva, Past President and the undersigned.

This International Forum headed by Hon. Bob Rae had been formed in 1996, and is participating in an advisory capacity on constitutional issues at the request of both the Federal Government of Canada and the Government of Sri Lanka. They are engaged in conflict resolution, and bring in experts to advice and assist in the development of models that would best suit each situation. They have been previously consulted by the Governments of Indonesia, Phillipines, Sudan and Ethiopia. Hon. Bob Rae further pointed out that they do not play any advocacy role, and that they merely give advice if asked for to enable the parties to understand the framework of the proposed structure, and reach an agreement of their own making. Mr. Rae and Prof. Cameron from the University of Toronto had recently visited Sri Lanka and spent nearly 10 days, meeting with Senior Government Ministers, members of the Opposition Parties, the outgoing and incoming High Commissioners for Canada, and an unscheduled meeting with Thamil Chelvam of the LTTE on his visit to Jaffna.

We presented a position paper covering our concerns which we discussed, and further took up the issue of any internatioal re-construction aid to Sri Lanka. Hon. Bob Rae agreed that the funds should be chanelled through the Government of Sri Lanka. He further agreed that whilst there was a special need to restore war ravaged regions, that the aid should be equitably distributed as the entire country has suffered affecting people everywhere. We also took up the issue of overseas funds and assets belonging to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) estimated at US $4 Billion by the Economist, which have been frozen following the designation of the LTTE as an international terrorist organization by the UN Security Council and member states, whic in our view should be first utilized in the reconstruction work along with contributions that would be forthcoming from the international community. Mr. Rae did not consider the proposal to be out of hand even though these funds are tainted, but said he would like to see Sri Lankans living abroad also contributing to the re-building costs.

We have previously met with the President of CONCORDIS who was assigned the task of surveying the views of Sri Lankan Canadians by the Honourable Bill Graham, Minister of Foreign Affairs, with a view to developing Canadian policies and initiatives on the Sri Lankan Peace Process. Our six page memorandum submitted to CONCORDIS was previously circulated. We have pleasure in annexing a copy of our position paper which we presented to the Hon. Robert Keith Rae for your information and record.

With best regards.

Sincerely,

Mahinda Gunasekera
Hony. President
Sri Lanka United National Association of Canada

Encl.



By Hand September 30, 2002

Hon. Robert Keith Rae, P.C., O.C., Q.C., L.L.D.

Chairman

Committee for an International Forum

of Federations

c/o Goodmans LLP

250 Yonge Street, Suite 2400

Toronto, Ontario M5B 2N3

 

Honourable Sir,

Re: Sri Lankan Peace Process

We have come to learn that your federation is playing a role in Sri Lanka’s Peace Process, and that you have personally visited Sri Lanka to consult with the key players and even had discussions with other Canadians of Sri Lankan origin in the recent past. We therefore sought an appointment with you and thank you for granting us an opportunity to meet and appraise you of our views.

Firstly, we would like to mention that we are a Non-Profit Community Organization which was established in 1983, mainly representing Canadians of Sri Lankan extraction belonging to the Sinhala community, committed to democracy and peaceful co-existence. Whilst we welcome the peace negotiations, we give below what we consider are some of the key issues that need to be resolved in order to reach a just and honourable settlement of the conflict in Sri Lanka:

Homeland:
At the very outset, we wish to state that we are of the firm opinion that peace could not be achieved by the division of Sri Lanka into separate autonomous regions based on ethnicity, and loosely united in a federal system or confederacy, but only through re-adjustment of the power structure without disturbing the unitary character of the island nation. Even though the island’s history is closely linked with that of the Sinhala people who are the proud heirs of an ancient Buddhist – Agrarian Civilization dating back to 2,600 years of minutely recorded history, we acknowledge the subsequent arrival of Tamils, Moors, Portuguese, Dutch, and Malays, who came both as invaders and settlers, who are today equal citizens of Sri Lanka. Contrary to the claims of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and the demand to recognize a separate homeland for the Tamils by their chief spokesperson Dr. Anton Balasingham at the first round of peace talks just concluded in Thailand, we speak with one voice when we declare that no part of modern Sri Lanka should be the exclusive homeland of any particular ethnic group, but that the entire island is the common homeland of all her people of whatever ethnic or other background they identify themselves with.

Eastern Province:
(a). We are opposed to any merger of the northern and eastern provinces even in an interim administration , except with the consent of the entire Sri Lankan people to such a major structural change, to be given at a referendum held for the purpose.

(b). The eastern province has at all times been an integral part of the Sinhala kingdom. The Tamils from Southern India (Tamilnadu) carried out numerous invasions into the north of Sri Lanka (Rajarata), where the seat of government had been established, to plunder and loot, before being defeated and driven back on every such occasion. The South Indian Tamils came peacefully as settlers only in the eleventh century. Around the 13th century, these Tamil settlers were able to establish a sub-kingdom called Jaffnapatam encompassing the Jaffna Peninsula and its immediate environs comprising an area smaller than the present northern province, which they ruled for about 150 years, paying tribute to the main Sinhala kingdom,

till such time as the latter regained suzerainty over the region in the 15th century prior to the arrival of the Portuguese colonial forces.


(c) The eastern province has been separate and distinct from the northern province with an almost equal mix of the three main ethnic communities residing there, of which the Tamils number approximately 33 percent, the Sinhalese 32 percent whilst the Moors (Muslims) account for about 35 percent. The people of this region lived in amity and peace until the militant Tamils sought this region for their separate state of ‘Eelam’, and commenced ethnic cleansing to rid the area of non-Tamil people.

(d). A merger of the northern and eastern provinces without the consent of the people would reduce the Moors and the Sinhalese who together make up approximately 67 percent of the eastern province into an insignificant minority, due to the more populous and ethnically cleansed northern province which is predominantly Tamil drastically changing the demographic balance in the east. Furthermore, one has to take into consideration the fact that the combined population of these two provinces represents less than ten percent of the total, but able to gain control of a substantial part of the island upon merger, which under a LTTE controlled administration would debar land hungry farming families from densely populated areas in the rest of the country from being settled on state owned lands, in order to keep non-Tamils entering the region.

(e). The merger of the northern and eastern provinces as sought by the representatives of the LTTE as an interim step, would create a unit having the same territorial area comprising 33 percent of the island’s land and 2/3rd of the coastline identical to the region claimed for the separate state of ‘Eelam’, towards which they carried on armed warfare including extreme acts of terrorism for nearly two decades. Such an interim measure allows the LTTE to consolidate their hold of this region , and with the help of their armed cadres and stockpile of weapons which remains in their possession, move unilaterally to declare independence and break up the island nation, igniting a more serious conflagration which would engulf the whole nation

Power Sharing:
We are in favour of a more equitable distribution of power at the Centre by switching to a committee set up as found in the State Council period under the Donoughmore Constitution, where the individual elected representatives could choose the Cabinet of Ministers from a slate of nominees, instead of the political party with the largest number of seats, which in our opinion will enable deserving members of the minority communities to get selected as Ministers involved in the policy making and implementation process. Additionally, certain positions such as Minister of Northern Province Development, Minister of Tamil Medium Education, Minister of Eastern Province Development, etc. could be reserved for members of the minority communities. Decentralization of the administration in combination with such a system would further enhance the distribution of power to all of the regions.


Disarming the LTTE:
Before any transfer of power to either the northern or eastern province even in an interim arrangement is considered, a settlement should be reached as to the disbanding of the armed units coming under the control of the LTTE and disposal of their weapons stockpile.

Devolution of Powers:
The demand for devolution of powers to regional units mainly comes from Tamil politicians, whilst of late the Moor community resident in the eastern province too have sought a separate devolved unit. The Indian Tamil community that was brought in by the British colonial regime in the 19th century as indentured labour for work on new plantations that were set up on lands confiscated from the indigenous Sinhala people without a penny in compensation, too have occasionally raised the cry of a similar devolved unit in the central provinces, possibly at the prompting of the LTTE.

The Eelam Tamil, Moor and Indian Tamil minorities want to carve out Sri Lanka and obtain special devolved powers and rights in their respective enclaves, whilst enjoying equal rights with the majority Sinhala community in the rest of the country where they live in mixed ethnic surroundings, without guaranteeing any rights to members of the majority community residing within their enclaves.
If the consensus of the people of Sri Lanka is for devolution of powers to the periphery, it must be ascertained as to the reasonable extent required to manage specific issues applicable to the regions which could be better managed at that point. The unitary structure of Sri Lanka should be retained to ensure the territorial integrity of this small island nation. State lands, watershed management, forestry, open-sea fisheries and coastal management, national defence, police services and environmental protection amongst others should remain within the control of the centre. Another factor to be considered in dealing with the issues of devolution is the growth of the less productive bureaucracy which Sri Lanka could ill afford, as the only tax base exists in the western province, which will have to bankroll the regional empires where the majority of people survive on subsistence level incomes, adding a huge burden to the national economy.
Internal Displacement and Freedom of Movement:

All persons displaced as a result of the conflict should have the right to return to their original homes and live without fear or harassment. The freedom of movement of all unarmed civilian persons and members of the national security forces should be restored forthwith. There should not be any physical barriers, taxes or other restrictions other than normal security measures on the internal travel of all citizens within the bounds of Sri Lanka.

LTTE’s Aims and Play on Words:
The LTTE which is adopting the new strategy of negotiations to reach the same goal of a Separate State through the supposedly interim transfer of power to a merged north and east encompassing the region claimed for ‘Eelam’, with weapons still in their hands, are carrying on a farcical act of pretending to settle for something less than separation. Their leader Prabhakaran said that they only wanted a ‘homeland’, which he termed the ‘given land’, probably meaning inherited region. They have recently spoken of ‘internal self-determination’ , and they continue to claim that the Tamils constitute a separate nation.
It is clear that they have not given up the so called ‘Thimpu Principles’ where they cited these self proclaimed rights and qualifications as the basis for their separate independent self governing region. The newly invented terms of ‘homeland’ or ‘given land’ in place of traditional homelands, right of ‘internal self-determination’ in place of the right to self-determination, and without any change in their status as a separate nation, might make for media headlines and even fool the Norwegians and the foreign funded NGO’s, but it cannot fool the serious observer.

These new terms are being bandied about without any clear definitions by representatives of a terrorist organization in the face of international legislative and military pressure in the war against terrorism. They are unable to substantiate their claims, as they are later settlers who took up residence in Sinhale or Sinhala Dwipa (land of Sinhalas or isle of Sinhalas), and who have become part of the modern Sri Lankan nation. They have no right to self-determination, as this right was conferred by the UN Convention to colonial peoples who were struggling to free themselves from foreign rule and not to ethnic minorities to break up independent sovereign nations.

The Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE facilitated by Norway has only temporarily silenced the guns and reduced the death toll, which is a positive step. On the negative side, the LTTE has been able to send their cadres into areas outside their control, terrorize the people through threats and acts of actual violence, to both extort money and forcibly conscript children and adults through abductions into their fighting forces, and thereby create an atmosphere of fear and instability in the minds of the people. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) made up of observers from the Scandinavian countries have merely recorded these violations, but have no powers to intervene and obtain redress for the victims. Having entered into a Cease-fire Agreement, the LTTE has continued to smuggle in several shipments of weapons, and even blatantly detained international observers from the SLMM who boarded one of their vessels, and released them at a point of their choosing. They have set up an illegal administration in the north and east including a police force, courts that pass death sentences by firing squad, and further imposed taxes which have been confirmed by several local bodies in the Jaffna peninsula itself who have condemned these activities. Most of the violations pertaining to the abductions and extortion have been reported on by the SLMM, Amnesty International, UNICEF, foreign diplomats and media, and the University Teachers of Jaffna for Human Rights, but the Government of Sri Lanka has turned a blind eye as they pursue a policy of peace at any cost, abandoning the constitutional role of protecting the people.

If Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and peace is to be safeguarded, the Tamils who are equal citizens of Sri Lanka should join the rest of the people as one nation, acknowledge the common homeland of Sri Lanka which equally belongs to the Sinhalese, Moors, Malays, Burghers and all other fellow citizens, under a single flag and constitution.

We wish to state here that we would be submitting copies of this letter to other leaders in Canada, Sri Lanka and members of the international community. We thank you once again for giving us the opportunity to discuss issues pertaining to our motherland, and would be glad to clarify any matters that have been stated herein.


Yours sincerely,


Mahinda Gunasekera

Honorary President

Encl. Historical data and other background information.


SRI LANKA UNITED NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CANADA
P.O.Box 55292, 300 Borough Drive, Toronto Ontario M1P 4Z7 Canada
WEB-SITE: http://wbhome.iirect.com/~sluna/
EMAIL: [email protected]

 

 


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