Former Supreme court judge and current Northern Province chief minister CV Wigneswaran met with President Maithripala Sirisena at the presidential secretariat in Colombo on Thursday February 12th and discussed a number of issues including the controversial resolution passed by the Northern provincial council accusing successive sri Lankan regimes of committing genocide of the Tamils of Sri Lanka in the past.
In a meeting described as “cordial and courteous” by official sources the Northern chief minister had reportedly explained the circumstances under which the resolution was drafted and presented by him to the northern council and how it was passed with the support of all TNA councillors and three Tamil members of the UPFA in the council.
Chief Minister Wigneswaran had held the hands of President Sirisena and assured him that the resolution was not aimed at President Sirisena or his Government but was targeting previous administrations particularly the Rajapaksa regime.(Incidently President Sirisena was a senior minister in the Government of Mahinda Rajapaksa until crossing over in November last year)
Chief minister Wigneswaran had also told President Sirisena that the resolution was an “expression of the emotions and feelings of the Tamil people” and was aimed at ensuring that the Tamil question remained a live issue on the international radar.
Wigneswaran’s meeting with President Sirisena was in two stages it is learnt. Initially Chief minister Wigneswaran and Northern provincial minister of fisheries Deneeswaran participated in a meeting presided over by President Sirisena regarding the problems faced by the people of the Northern province engaged in fishing. Chief among topics discussed was the question of Indian fishers poaching in Sri Lanka’s northern territorial waters.
President Sirisena had convened the meeting with the Northern chief minister’s participation to discuss the ramifications concerning poaching by Indian fishers prior to his visit to New Delhi where he would meet Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi.
Also associated in the discussions on the question of poaching by Indian fishermen were Cabinet minister for Fisheries Joseph Michael Perera, State minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardena , Northern province Governor HMGS Palihakkara, senior sri Lanka Navy officers and other senior officials from relevant ministries at Government and rovincial level.
The chief minister along with provincial fisheries minister Deneeswaran briefed the president of the prevailing situation in the northern fishing sector today. It was pointed out that fishermen from Tamil Nadu were emboldened by the lack of action by the Sri Lankan navy after the change of Govt in Sri Lanka after January 8th this year. As such the Tamil Nadu fishers were entering and poaching in northern waters en masse on a scale never seen before. Fishing gear of Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen were deliberately damaged and destroyed by the Tamil Nadu fishers who intimidated the Sri Lankans by sheer numbers.
Wigneswaran suggested that both countries engage in joint patrolling of coastal waters to prevent poaching. He also recommended that bottom trawling be prohibited.
President Sirisena lent a sympathetic ear to the issues raised by Wigneswaran and assured him that they would be addressed gradually but speedily. He said that Sri Lankan officials would take up the fishing issue in detail with their Indian counterparts while he himself would touch on the subject in his direct discussion with Indian premier Narendra Modi.
After the first stage of discussions involving a number of people, President sirisena and Chief minister Wigneswaran had a second round of talks held on a one to one basis.It is during this private discussion that Wigneswaran had tried to explain the circumstances under which he moved the Genocide resolution and got it passed by the Northern council. He assured the President that it was not against Sirisena personally and that it was only a manifestation of the mood of the Tamil people.
Wigneswaran also praised President Sirisena for his Independence day address and stated that the Tamil people were receptive of the sentiments expressed.
President Sirisena replied that being in politics for decades he understood political compulsions faced by different political parties. He told Wigneswaran that the government headed by him and Prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe wanted to ensure a change in the political culture that had existed in the country so far.President Sirisena told Wigneswaran that the new Govt was in office for only a month and that it should be given time and cooperation.All political parties must work together and not engage in acts that could create unnecessary tensions, Sirisena said.
Meanwhile an Editorial appearing in the Indian English newspaper “The Hindu”under the heading “Playing Poker in Sri Lanka” states as follows –
“The Tamil question has been brought centre-stage with the elected council of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province passing a resolution accusing successive governments in Colombo of carrying out genocide against the minority community over six decades. Moved by Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran in the Provincial Council, the resolution demands that the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights investigate “historical” and “recent” instances of genocide and submit its report at the session of the Human Rights Council next month. It also asks the UN Security Council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court. Thirdly, it asks courts in countries with universal jurisdiction over the alleged events and perpetrators, “including but not limited to the United States”, to prosecute the crimes. The resolution roundly rejects any domestic investigations. The timing of this strongly worded resolution is no mystery. In the five weeks since President Maithripala Sirisena has been in office after his stunning election victory, he has been preoccupied with the task of fulfilling his 100-day charter of promises, which ambitiously includes the abolition of the executive presidency. Pulling together a diverse coalition with conflicting agendas is his primary challenge. For these reasons, there has been significant diplomatic chatter that the international community must permit the new government some time before it takes up the twin tasks of investigation of alleged war crimes and human rights abuses against Tamils and demilitarisation of the North. The HRC session in Geneva is seen as crucial in this context. Clearly, the Tamil National Alliance, which is the main political grouping representing the Tamils and rules the Northern Province, wants to ensure that these issues stay on the global agenda, and at the same time test the will of the new Sri Lankan government at a crucial point”.
“While the resolution may serve that purpose, its maximalist tenor does complicate the political ground for the Sirisena government even before it has properly articulated a plan for addressing Tamil demands for a just peace, harden as it will Sinhala opinion. The political and legal contestation over the use of the word genocide will prove divisive too. Soon after the election, the new government gave an assurance of a credible domestic investigation into war crimes allegations. New Delhi is rightly concerned about the impact this could have on its diplomatic efforts aimed at persuading Colombo to act on full devolution of political powers to the Tamil minority, a matter that is certain to be on the agenda when President Sirisena visits next week for a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Colombo must be counselled against any knee-jerk response on the resolution, and encouraged to come out with a full-fledged plan for reconciliation with the Tamil minority”.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at ~ firstname.lastname@example.org