The Web Sri Lanka In Focus

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Sri Lanka sets up political council for war-torn North

In a significant concession to the ethnic minorities, the Sri Lankan government on Friday set up a multi-party political council to advice on the administration of development and rehabilitation projects in the war-torn Northern Province, which includes Jaffna and the districts under the control of the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Cabinet spokesman Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said the high-powered three-man council, called the Special Task Force (STF), would be headed by the cabinet minister for social services, Douglas Devananda. It would include the minister for rehabilitation, Rishad Badiuddin, and senior presidential advisor and MP Basil Rajapaksa.

The three members belong to three different parties, and represent the three main communities in the island, namely, Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese.

“The formation of the council has been a longstanding demand of mine for an interim council of peoples’ representatives to run the administration in the Tamil-speaking north and east Sri Lanka,” Devananda told this website’s newspaper on Saturday.

“While the Eastern Province will have an elected provincial council after the May 10 elections, the Northern Province will have a nominated but representative political council till elections are held,” he said.

Devananda and Badiuddin are both MPs representing the Northern Province. The All Party Representative Committee (APRC), set up by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to work out a new devolution package for the country, had recommended for now a representative advisory council for the war-affected northern province be given.

However, the Eelam Peoples’ Democratic Party (EPDP), which Devananda represents, hopes to make the STF more than just a body overseeing economic development and rehabilitation. A top source in the party told this website’s newspaper that it would try to get a say in the maintenance of law and order, which means controlling the police.

The EPDP official pointed out that the 13th Amendment of the Sri Lankan constitution, which President Rajapaksa has promised to implement in full, envisaged the transfer of law and order powers to the provinces.

But this has been anathema to the majority Sinhalese and successive governments in Colombo. The Sinhalese fear that if law and order is handed over to a Tamil province, Tamil separatist forces cannot be controlled.

Source: newindpress

14 die in new Sri Lanka fighting

Scattered gunbattles and a roadside bomb blast in Sri Lanka's embattled north killed 11 Tamil Tiger rebels and three government soldiers, the military said Saturday.

Sporadic fighting in northern Mannar district killed 10 rebels and two soldiers Friday. Fifteen insurgents and four troops were also wounded, said a defense ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of government regulations.

Tamil guerrillas triggered a bomb targeting an army truck in northeastern Welioya region Friday night, killing one soldier. Separately, a gunbattle along the front lines in Welioya killed one Tamil rebel and wounded 13 others, four of them soldiers, he said.

Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan was not immediately available for comment Saturday.

It was not possible to independently verify the military's claims because fighting took place deep in the northern jungles, where access is restricted. Both sides commonly exaggerate their enemy's casualties while underplaying their own.

The government has pledged to capture the rebels' de facto state in the north and crush them by the end of the year. But diplomats and other observers say the army is facing more resistance than they had expected.

Fighting has escalated along the northern front lines since the government withdrew from a long-ignored cease-fire in January.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for an independent homeland for minority ethnic Tamils, who have been marginalized for decades by governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting.

Source: AP