Thursday, September 06, 2007

Sri Lanka Aims to Divide Districts in East, Tamil Lawmaker Says

Sri Lanka's government is dividing districts in the east to prevent a Tamil homeland being created, a move that will spoil the chances of a peace settlement, a lawmaker with the Tamil National Alliance party said.

The aim is to create an ethnic-Sinhalese region between the port of Trincomalee in the Eastern Province and Mullaiththeevu in the Northern Province, R. Sampanthan, the TNA's leader in Parliament, told the assembly yesterday, according to TamilNet's Web site. The TNA has 22 seats in the 225-seat Parliament.

The army won control of the Eastern Province in July after 14 years of fighting with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The LTTE still controls parts of the northern Jaffna peninsula.

The Tamil Tigers are fighting for a separate homeland in the South Asian island nation of 20 million people. Ethnic Sinhalese make up almost 74 percent of the population and Tamils about 8.5 percent, according to U.S. government data.

The government has pledged to hold elections and attract investors and tourists to the Eastern Province that has a 462- kilometer (287-mile) coastline. It offered an amnesty from Sept. 1 to rebels hiding in the jungles in the east, saying they will be rehabilitated and given job training.

Sampanthan said the government is creating ethnic- Sinhalese administrations in the region, TamilNet reported, citing comments he made during a parliamentary debate on events in the east since July.

Sri Lankan Unity

A political solution to Tamil demands must be based on maintaining the unity of Sri Lanka, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said this week, according to the Defense Ministry's Web site.

``I was elected primarily by a Sinhala constituency on an election manifesto which made it clear that an ultimate solution to the ethnic crisis could be evolved only on the basis of a unitary state,'' Rajapaksa said in an interview with Indian media, according to the ministry. The LTTE enforced a boycott of Tamil voters in the 2005 election, he said.

There are ``genuine Tamil grievances'' and ``genuine Tamil aspirations'' that have to be addressed, Rajapaksa said. The LTTE doesn't speak for all Tamils, he said, adding that Tamil groups should present a united agenda and proposals for peace.

``The vast majority of Tamil people want peace above everything and to them (the state of) Eelam is just an illusion,'' Rajapaksa said. ``The only question that is non- negotiable is a divided Sri Lanka.''

The president said he intends to bring democracy to the Eastern Province and wants elections held there before the end of this year.

The LTTE has an estimated 12,000 fighters in its land forces and 4,000 members of its Sea Tigers unit. It unveiled an air wing when light aircraft bombed areas near the capital, Colombo, in March and April.

The army will drive the Tamil Tigers from the northeastern region, Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said last month. The LTTE said in July that its units were still operating in the Batticaloa area in the east.

The government and LTTE held two rounds of peace talks in Geneva last year that failed to make any progress.