4th May, 2003   Volume 9, Issue 42

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Muslim Congress to be unified soon

By D. B. S. Jeyaraj

The politically fragmented Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) will be unified by the end of this month if current moves to forge unity succeed.

Informed Muslim sources told The Sunday Leader that efforts by concerned Muslim politicians and community leaders to unite the party have been remarkably successful so far and that if “God wills” all three SLMC factions would come under one umbrella again.

Intense negotiations among concerned leaders are currently going on and a three member committee has been appointed to formulate a common basis of agreement for estranged SLMC elements to realign. The primary focus of this common agenda would be to ensure the safety and security of Muslims living in the North - East Province.

It would also address the ongoing peace talks between the government and LTTE with a view to gaining effective representation for the Muslims at the discussions.

“There has to be a united and powerful Muslim voice in the talks to protect Muslim rights at the peace talks,” said the sources.

The Sunday Leader learns that the recent communal violence in Muttur where Muslims were severely affected had been the turning point in favour of SLMC unity.

SLMC Leader Rauf Hakeem spent several days in the Trincomalee District and interacted with all shades of Muslim opinion there.

It was emphasised then that broader Muslim unity was vital to safeguard Muslim interests and help realise legitimate aspirations.

It was pointed out that the premier political party of the Muslims had been divided and weakened at a time when it should have been strong to advocate the Muslim viewpoint.

It is learnt that a lengthy meeting between Hakeem and estranged SLMC Parliamentarian Noordeen Mashoor from the Wanni District had delved into these matters in depth.

Amparai District MPs Anver Ismail and Haris had been constructively involved in these unity moves and had lobbied rival SLMC factions to sink differences and re-unite.

The SLMC split first after the demise of its charismatic leader M. H. M. Ashraff. A faction led by his wife Ferial Ashraff and M. H. M. Hizbullah function independent of the SLMC under the National Unity Alliance (NUA) banner.

The SLMC suffered further fragmentation when a faction led by Amparai District MP, A. H. M. Athaulla and national list MP Dr. Hafrath rebelled strongly against Hakeem's leadership.

Both sides sought legal recourse against each other and some salient issues concerning the party are pending before courts.

The break-away faction now calls itself the Ashraff Congress.

Ismail and Haris however had not joined either faction and continued to maintain cordial relations with both Hakeem and Athaulla. They are now interacting between both sides and helping to patch up differences.

Once the Hakeem and Athaulla led SLMC factions come together, further moves will be on to bring the Ferial Ashraff group back to the SLMC fold.

The Sunday Leader learns that informal moves towards unity have been on with regard to the Ferial Ashraff bloc and that there are positive signals indicating a possible tie-up if Athaulla's dissidents merge with the SLMC again.

There has been strong pressure, particularly from the Muslim intellectuals and student community of the Eastern Province on Muslim politicians to put their  differences aside and unite for the greater good of the community.

Muslim sources said that a meeting will be held in parliament when it convenes on May 6 and that all factions of the SLMC will participate.

"That meeting will be crucial and will determine the future course of unity moves," the sources said.

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