Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka devolution package may be ready in 60 days: minister
Mar 22, 2007 - 10:05:48 AM

New Delhi, March 22 - A senior Sri Lankan minister tasked with preparing a credible power sharing formula with the consent of all major parties wants the exercise to be completed over the next 60 days.

Science and Technology Minister Tissa Vitarana, who heads the government-sponsored All Party Representative Committee -, said in an interview that he had told the dozen parties in the panel to reach a consensus within two months.

'My only hope is that there will be adequate power sharing to satisfy the Tamil community in particular,' Vitarana told IANS in an interview, just before flying to New Delhi on a three-day trip that ends this weekend.

Vitarana, a veteran and respected Left politician, said the consensual APRC proposal, which it was originally hoped would be ready by February, had been delayed because of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party's - delay in submitting its proposals.

'I expect them to reach me early next week. Thereafter the amendments from the JHU and CWC, which are already prepared, should follow,' he added, referring to the party of Buddhist monks known by its acronym JHU and the Ceylon Workers Congress -, which represents the 'Indian Tamil' community in Sri Lanka.

'The discussion of APRC will then follow considering the amendments, section by section,' he added. 'I have indicated to the 13 political parties - that we should try to reach a consensus within two months.'

Outside the battlefield that Sri Lanka has become between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam -, Vitarana's task is considered the most crucial, one that might have a path-breaking impact on the dragging ethnic conflict.

The minister has been engaging with all the mainstream political parties representing various ideologies as well as linguistic, ethnic and religious groups in Sri Lanka in a bid to formulate a national consensus on what and how much powers should be devolved to the minorities under a new system of governance.

The international community believes that only a genuine power sharing arrangement will help end the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict that has claimed over 65,000 lives since 1983 and shows no signs of ending.

Vitarana said there was general acceptance that the degree of power sharing agreed to under the present constitution 'was inadequate and that it needs to be extended'.

'The fact that power sharing is being extended to the village level has had a positive impact in that it would better address the needs of the scattered minority pockets. The fact that the two main parties that form governments, SLFP and UNP -, are part of the consensus would help to convince the minorities that whatever consensus is reached, it will be implemented.'

Vitarana said he 'strongly disagreed' with the Janatha Vimukti Peramuna - stand 'which is not compatible with any socialist point of views'. The JVP is a Sinhalese-Marxist party that has since quit the APRC process, adamantly refusing to consider any change to Sri Lanka's present unitary status.

'The JVP campaign is not getting the expected response from the people, and I hope that as the APRC discussions proceed, the political tensions will be down.'

'India can have a big influent on events in Sri Lanka,' Vitarana added. 'Indian support for the APRC process will have a positive impact on public opinion in Sri Lanka.'

Asked if the devolution exercise will have any effect on the LTTE, he replied: 'The LTTE will come into serious talks only our of necessity, which would be determined by their relative military strength, level of support from the Tamil community and pressure from the international powers. These factors could also play a role in - final fate of the LTTE.'

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