Sri Lanka opposition divided over attending all-party meeting on reconciliation
The stance of the several other fringe opposition groups was unclear
Sri Lanka's opposition parties on Tuesday stood divided over their participation in the all-party conference called by President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday on the National Reconciliation Programme that seeks to address the thorny issue of ethnic reconciliation of minority Tamils in the island nation.
While invitations were extended to leaders of all political parties and independent groups with representation in parliament to attend the all-party meeting on national reconciliation, some of the opposition parties have claimed that they are not aware of the exact agenda.
“We have not been informed of the agenda for the meeting. But we will attend for the sake of the people,” Sajith Premadasa, the main opposition leader in the Sri Lankan parliament, said.
He said his party the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) reserved the right to walk out of the meeting if it proved to be a political gimmick rather than a genuine effort.
According to a notice issued from the office of President Wickremesinghe, who recently returned from his India visit, an all-party conference has been scheduled for July 26 and invitations have been extended to leaders from all the parties.
While the second largest opposition group Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) said they would not attend, other political parties said they would take part.
“We will be going,” Dayasiri Jayasekera of the former President Maithripala Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party said.
The stance of the several other fringe opposition groups was unclear.
The all-party move happens closely on the heels of the president’s two-day visit to India last week where he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Wickremesinghe prior to his Delhi visit had agreed to the full implementation of the 13th Amendment (13A) to the Sri Lankan Constitution with all-party consensus without the police powers being granted to the provinces.
This was at a meeting with the Tamil parties represented in the north and east provinces.
The 13A was India's pioneering move in 1987 to try and bring in a settlement to the issue of political autonomy to the Tamils in Sri Lanka. It created nine provinces as devolved units with a temporary merger of the north and eastern provinces.
Prime Minister Modi during his talks with Wickremesinghe had expressed hope that the Sri Lankan leader would be committed to implementing the 13A and holding the provincial council elections. He urged to ensure a life of respect and dignity for the Tamils.
Sri Lanka has had a long history of failed negotiations to end the Tamil claim of discrimination by allowing some form of political autonomy.
The Tamils put forward their demand for autonomy after gaining independence from Britain in 1948, which from the mid-70s turned into a bloody armed conflict.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ran a military campaign for a separate Tamil homeland in the Northern and Eastern provinces of the island nation for nearly 30 years before its collapse in 2009 after the Sri Lankan Army killed its supreme leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.
According to Sri Lankan government figures, over 20,000 people are missing due to various conflicts, including the three-decade brutal war with Lankan Tamils in the north and east, which claimed at least 100,000 lives.