Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has completely
rejected the 13th Amendment as a solution to
the Tamil question and gone further to
declare that it could not even prove an
effective basis for the commencement of
talks. In an interview with The Sunday
Leader, TNA Parliamentary Group Leader, R.
Sampanthan said that the inadequacy was best
demonstrated by the many efforts to present
acceptable proposals to form the basis for
talks undertaken by successive heads of
state. He said that the 13th Amendment
concept did not emerge from the APRC but was
imposed on the APRC by the President. The
Trincomalee District MP claimed that the
real issue was not Pirapaharan's insincerity
to peace but the failure of successive
governments to present devolution proposals
that could challenge him and put him to the
litmus test. He added that it was an
absolute shame that a party like the UPFA
entered into an agreement with an
organisation like the TMVP to create a false
impression that the UPFA was acceptable to
the Tamil people. Excerpts:
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Q: President Mahinda
Rajapakse has declared that the government's
solution to the ethnic conflict will be 'the
13th Amendment plus one.' Is this a feasible
The 13th Amendment was enacted around
1988. Since then, successive governments in
this country during the periods of
Presidents R. Premadasa, Chandrika
Kumaratunga and even Mahinda Rajapakse,
during his two years in office, were
dedicated to the task of evolving a set of
constitutional proposals to find a solution
to the conflict.
That in itself is an admission
that the said amendment was not a solution
to the conflict taking into account the
manner in which the conflict has developed.
We did not contest the
provincial council elections after the 13th
Amendment. When I say we, I refer to the
authentic TULF that comprised Amirthalingam,
Sivasithambaram, myself, Neelan Tiruchelvan
and several others. Today it is represented
by only one person.
We did not contest for a
reason. We informed the Indian government
that the constitutional amendment was
woefully inadequate, not durable and in no
way a solution. This was proved
subsequently. The new body could not
independently deal with agrarian services
and regional transport. The Supreme Court
held that the powers of the center were
adequate for the center to do anything. Even
simple things like the two areas I mentioned
could not be decided upon by the PCs.
The 13th Amendment is
certainly no solution to the Tamil question
and cannot even be the basis for the
commencement of anything that can move
towards a resolution of the conflict. This
is proven beyond doubt by the fact that
since its introduction, successive
presidents have attempted to propose
solutions more durable.
Q: In that case, do you
think the President is being very hopeful
that the affected parties would settle for
what he is willing to offer, which now
appears to be a solution proposed 20 years
A: The President must
remember in the first instance that when
appointing the APRC, he also appointed an
experts panel comprising 17 persons - 12
Sinhalese, four Tamils and one Muslim to
come up with proposals and help the APRC. He
did this for the reason that even he
recognised that a new set of proposals was
required to attempt seeking a resolution to
Eleven persons of this
committee came up with proposals that went
far beyond the 13th Amendment as the
contours of a political solution. Everybody
knows that the said report could have been a
useful basis for the commencement of useful
talks at the APRC. Unfortunately, that was
consigned to the dustbin. Thereafter, Prof.
Tissa Vitharana came up with a new report
based on the reports of the majority and
minority experts. Even his report went far
beyond the 13th Amendment. The discussion at
the APRC took place on that basis.
The 13th Amendment concept did
not emerge from the APRC. In my view, the
President imposed it on the APRC. That is
the inevitable conclusion we had to come to.
While some parties at the APRC
level strived to develop something of value,
certain extreme parties like the JHU and the
MEP were having direct contact with the
President, independent of the APRC,
conveying their apprehensions about the
progressive thinking of the APRC.
It is my impression that the
President stifled the exercise, frequently
summoned the APRC in recent times to inhibit
and curb its activities. Perhaps
instructions were also issued as to what can
and cannot be done, hence the dilution of
the process. These directives were also in
line with the thinking of the JHU and the
When the President came under
increasing international pressure to come up
with a set of acceptable devolution
proposals, he looked for a way out and clung
to the 13th Amendment as a lifeline.
Q: You mean, he fell back
on the 13th Amendment, though never fully
implemented, and 20 years old?
A: If he is speaking of
this amendment, he should abide by it. What
came out from the 13th Amendment was
devolution in a merged Northeastern
Province. He can't think of it without
accepting the concept of a merged northeast.
If he wants to revert to this, then he must
revert to the position enunciated by the
Indo- Sri Lanka Agreement which was a merged
That existed for 18 years
under Presidents J. R. Jayewardene, R.
Premadasa, D. B. Wijetunga and Chandrika
Kumaratunga. Mahinda Rajapakse as a minister
and as a prime minister also accepted this
position while serving Kumaratunga's
Q: One argument often put
forward by southern political parties is
that Velupillai Pirapaharan is insincere in
negotiating peace. Do you agree? If not why?
A: The litmus test in
regard to that would be to come up with a
set of proposals that would challenge him.
When Rajapakse assumed presidential office,
in his 'Martyr's Day' speech, Pirapaharan
called Rajapakse a 'pragmatic person' and
called upon him to come up with proposals
that could meet the reasonable aspirations
of the Tamil people.
The question is not
Pirapaharan's insincerity but whether
President Rajapakse has managed to put on
the table a progressive set of proposals
thereby issuing a serious challenge to
Not just him, no southern
government has. If there was, there could be
no justification for the continuity of the
armed struggle. The Tamil people are
overwhelmingly prepared to support such
proposals. Then the armed struggle will have
to come to an end.
If the P-TOMS agreement was
implemented or an Interim Self Governing
Authority (ISGA) was set up, things would
have evolved. I am aware that the LTTE was
very interested in the resettlement of the
war and the tsunami displaced. They would
never have been able to destroy what they
were instrumental in rehabilitating. But
that never happened.
I am not saying that
everything is right with the LTTE. Nor do I
imply that they have not made grave
mistakes. They have. But the fact of the
matter is that the Sri Lankan state has
never come up with progressive proposals
that constituted a challenge to Pirapaharan.
He was therefore never put to the litmus
test of having to either reject or accept
proposals designed to meet Tamil aspirations
and also acceptable to the country and the
Q: Can the government
succeed in its military efforts in your
opinion? Is it likely that the government
intends catering to Tamil aspirations only
after achieving its military objectives?
A: As long as the
struggle of the LTTE can be linked to the
just demands of the Tamil people which have
not been fulfilled, it is my view that the
government will not be able to succeed in
its efforts to achieve a military victory.
They may weaken the LTTE but
there cannot be a military victory in the
real sense. The government should not think
that a military victory could be a
substitute to a reasonable political
solution. If the government thinks that a
military victory is possible and thereafter
they can ram down the throats of Tamils some
political solution, they are sadly mistaken.
The Tamils will not settle for such.
Q: President Rajapakse
recently told newspaper editors that the
north was not being cleared to capture
territory whereas the military commanders
have pledged to remove every trace of a mini
state within the north. Do you think these
military advances are as simplistic as
portrayed by Rajapakse?
A: I have not the
slightest doubt that what the President
desires is a military victory. This is not
because he thinks that a military victory is
a solution to the conflict but because he is
unable to come up with a political solution
to the problem.
He thinks if Tamils are
subjugated through military means then a
political solution of his choice, acceptable
to his extremist allies, could be rammed
down the Tamils' collective throats. It will
prove a sad mistake for Tamils are resilient
enough to withstand any such pressure.
Q: Is it your contention
that the President is unable to pursue a
political solution due to being held
'prisoner' by extremist allies?
A: There is no question
about his status as a political prisoner. He
is in bondage. Yet, I do not conclude that
he is of the same wavelength as the JHU and
But if he was not, the MoU
signed with the UNP gave him a glorious
opportunity to disengage himself from these
political formations and think differently
and arrive at consensus with the UNP which
would have conferred the necessary two third
majority in parliament and provided the
required support in the country. He had his
opportunity to try what the Conservatives
and Labour did with regard to the Northern
He did not pursue the MoU and
refused to utilise the golden opportunity to
strengthen himself. These factors go against
the President and portray him as one in line
with his extremist allies.
Q: Amidst the conflict, the
economy is badly hit. Is that not a high
priority for parties like the TNA?
A: We are certainly
concerned about the peoples' constant
suffering. The middle and lower middle
classes have it tough. The majority of the
masses are greatly suffering and are being
It is the government that does
not seem too concerned about it. They seem
to think that if a military victory is
possible, all these issues could be neatly
swept under the carpet. That shows both the
insensitivity and callousness of this
Q: During the recent budget
vote, TNA legislators were largely absent.
There was the abduction of some MPs' family
members. But by such abstinence, haven't you
also given into terror tactics and therefore
paved the way for repeats?
A: It is a very
difficult position when close relations of
parliamentarians are abducted. They were
kidnapped by the TMVP with whom the
government has now struck an unholy
political alliance to contest in Batticaloa.
When they are threatened with
death, a political party is unable to extend
its whip to compel those MPs to vote. That
was a serious question that affected
individual members. We could not be so
insensitive to their concerns and feelings.
But we appealed to the
government as it was well within the powers
of the government to ensure the release of
the abducted. It is not that we kept quiet.
We raised it in parliament and with the
Speaker and the President. But nothing
happened because the state was quite
unwilling to intervene and enforce the law.
The law enforcement machinery
has collapsed. It's paralysed. It clearly
shows that the state can behave in the most
unprincipled way in order to ensure their
Q: You have raised the
issue of MPs' security regularly. Three
Tamil legislators have been killed since
November 2005, two from the TNA. Following
Thyagarajah Maheswaran's killing, there was
a move to enhance parliamentarians'
security. Are TNA legislators now enjoying
A: Our security has not
been enhanced. Our members are naturally
concerned and apprehensive about their
security vulnerabilities. We had Natarajah
Raviraj and Joseph Pararajasingham brutally
killed, former on a public highway within a
high security zone and the latter inside a
church. Maheswaran was killed in a temple.
These incidents have a serious impact on
other parliamentarians. But what can we do?
It is up to the state to make MPs feel
Forget MPs. Take journalists.
What happened to the inquiry into Sivaram's
death? He was a brilliant journalist. I
raised the matter in parliament and
requested international involvement in the
investigation. Here, inquiries are conducted
in such a manner that even if arrests are
made, they will be released subsequently. We
have no faith in the law enforcement and
inquiring agencies here.
Q: Nominations have been
called for selected local bodies in the
east. The UNP has already decided not to
contest and you were quoted alleging the
holding of a poll would prove 'suicidal' at
A: There is an
organisation, the TMVP that is brazenly
committed to a gun culture and more so in
the east. A number of persons have been
abducted; a series of extra judicial
killings and extortions too have taken
place. These incidents continue. Many have
disposed of their vehicles fearing they
would be simply taken away. There is so much
of fear created that people will not dare
oppose these brute forces.
Q: But then there could be
a silent protest of not voting?
The law enforcement machinery has
totally collapsed. If the LTTE had been
present in the northeast at one point of
time, at least in the government controlled
territory, the law enforcement machinery was
functional and in force.
People relied on it.
So previously, candidates and
voters could effectively depend upon the law
enforcement agencies. But due to these
paramilitary groups, things have drastically
changed. There is the law of the jungle. The
law enforcement agencies are now hand in
glove with these militants, conniving
together and condoning their actions.
This is the big difference.
That's why we have decided we would not risk
it. Some of our candidates and elected
members have been killed during previous
local authority elections. We have no wish
to expose our candidates and supporters to
brute forces. This election is a farce and a
joke. Nobody will take it seriously.
When local polls were held
previously in Tamil dominant areas the ITAK
swept the polls, as did the SLMC in Muslim
dominant areas. The same thing will happen
in Batticaloa if not for the TMVP.
Q: Won't that cause your
electoral base to erode?
No. The TMVP leader went abroad on a
diplomatic passport and had a visa issued on
the strength of a Foreign Ministry note. He
was driven up to the aeroplane in a car
along the tarmac. Today, he is cooling his
heels in a British detention centre. He
reportedly went to attend a conference on
climate change sponsored by the JHU minister
in this government. It is this man's deputy
who leads the TMVP in Batticaloa today.
The Tamil people have a long
history with regard to their democratic
processes dating back to 1956. Since then,
they have consistently spoken and voted in
support of a certain policy. That's an
indisputable fact. Those in the TMVP today
were a party to the Oslo Communiqu‚ and to
the ISGA proposals. That was the same
political thinking that has existed for
Today the TMVP finds a saviour
in Mahinda Rajapakse and supports his
policies. This is not what the people have
voted for over 50 years at a series of
elections. Tamil people are aware of this
history and this fraudulent election will
never erode our voter base or make them
change their stance.
Q: But the government
claims the east is cleared and simply wishes
to complete the exercise by holding
A: President Rajapakse'
singular purpose is to achieve a military
victory. He is under tremendous
international pressure to come up with a
political solution and finds himself quite
out of depth there.
He has sought refuge in the
13th Amendment and knows that he should show
that something is being done. He believes
that the outside world can be convinced that
he is doing his best. In doing what he is
doing, he is primarily cheating himself.
Q: It was reported that the
UPFA has signed an agreement with the TMVP
to contest for the Batticaloa MC under one
Isn't this official recognition of a
link between them whilst conferring
political legitimacy upon a renegade
It's a shame that the PA which is the
main party in government has signed an
agreement with an organisation like the TMVP
to create a false impression that the PA is
acceptable to the Tamil people. It only
demonstrates PA's political bankruptcy and
the poverty of its thinking with regard to
the Tamil question. They think by such
desperate actions, they can win the support
of the Tamil people.
Q: The Indian Premier,
Manmohan Singh and British Premier, Gordon
Brown in a recent joint statement called for
a 'credible devolution package' as a key
contribution to finding a political solution
acceptable to all communities within the
framework of a united Sri Lanka. Do you
think the government is ready to drop the
word 'unitary' in favour of 'united'?
A: Obviously not. In my
view, three very significant phases in the
APRC process should be considered as
manifestations of the President's
One was the abandoning of the
majority experts' committee proposals.
Second was the abrogation of the MoU between
the PA and the UNP. The third, the SLFP's
devolution proposals that contemplated a
unitary structure of government with the
district as the unit of devolution. They all
reflected presidential thinking.
I don't think the President
has accepted that there can be no devolution
within a unitary framework. This is one of
the fundamental flaws in the 13th Amendment.
This is also why the provincial councils
could not make progress with regard to even
agrarian services and provincial transport.
That's why the Supreme Court ruled that the
centre could take whatever action it
Not just the Indian and
British Premiers, several other countries,
the Co-Chairs, the EU, and the US
independently, and India repeatedly, have
called upon the President to come up with
acceptable proposals within a united
framework. Some have used the word 'federal'
explicitly. But there has been no response
to these calls.
This is the crux of the
matter. If these proposals were prepared to
accommodate these views, that would have
been the litmus test to Pirapaharan and the
Q: Do you think that India
is currently keen to play a decisive role in
helping Sri Lanka to end the conflict
despite an unhappy previous attempt?
India must play a role. India is a
country very close to all of us - close to
Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims alike. We all
came from there.
Unfortunately, India was
betrayed by both the Sri Lankan government
and the Tamils. There may have been mistakes
all round. But India also has a
responsibility to help resolve this
country's conflict in a reasonable and
acceptable manner. India must play that role
and all of us must welcome that role.