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LLRC a failure, LTTE not regrouping “ M.A. Sumanthiran

2014 Apr 21

On the invitation of the South African Government, a four-member Tamil National Alliance (TNA) delegation led by R. Sampanthan visited the country recently. South African President, Jacob Zuma, has appointed African National Congress (ANC) Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, as a special envoy to deal with the Sri Lankan issue. TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran, who was part of the TNA delegation, along with his colleagues Suresh Premachandran and Selvam Adaikalanathan, shares his views with Ceylon Today on the new initiative sprouted by the rainbow nation.
Following are excerpts:
By Ananth Palakidnar
What was the purpose behind the TNA's visit to South Africa last week?
A: South Africa's concern over the Lankan Tamil issue has been there for the past three years. The TNA representatives visited South Africa in the past as well. South Africa's Deputy Foreign Minister, Ibrahim Ibrahim, had had talks with the TNA over the Tamil issue previously. The TNA was invited by the ANC for its centenary celebrations last year. The group led by TNA Leader R. Sampanthan along with myself and fellow MPs, Suresh Premachandran and Selvam Adaikalanathan, visited South Africa from 10 to 12 April on the invitation of the South African Government.
The new South African initiative has been mooted by the country's President, Jacob Zuma, following his visit to Colombo for the Commonwealth summit last November. A government delegation led by Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva visited South Africa in February. During our visit, we met the special envoy appointed by President Zuma to deal with the Lankan issue.
Who first sought South African mediation over the Lankan issue?
A: South Africa remains an exemplary country, successfully bringing an end to its apartheid regime. The TNA has been interested in the manner the issues were handled in reaching solutions between the minority Whites and the majority Blacks in the country. We are impressed with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was set up to enhance the reconciliation process.
When Zuma arrived in Colombo for CHOGM last November, President Mahinda Rajapaksa had talks with him on the Lankan Tamil issue. During his meeting with the South African Leader, Rajapaksa also expressed his desire over South Africa's involvement in the Lankan crisis. Thereafter, Zuma met the TNA Leader in Colombo and told Rajapaksa of his government's willingness to help Sri Lanka.
The TNA has been constantly emphasizing on the need to have third-party mediation. Whereas earlier, foreign mediation has failed, without reaching any solution to the crisis, how do you see South Africa's mediation process?
A: It is wrong to say that previous foreign mediation efforts on the Lankan peace process failed badly. They were done with good intentions. However, they were not successful for various reasons. The TNA believes that through a healthy third party mediation process, a solution could be reached for the problem. People participating in the fresh initiative are 'new.' South Africa has vast experience in handling ethnic issues. Therefore, let us hope for the best.
President Zuma has appointed Cyril Ramaphosa as a special envoy to facilitate in the Lankan issue. You all met him in Pretoria recently. What is your impression about him as a special envoy tasked with handling the Lankan issue?
A: Ramaphosa is a senior hand in the ANC. Soon after Zuma returned from Colombo after CHOGM, a resolution was passed by the country's premier party ANC to help Sri Lanka in its efforts to find a political solution to the Lankan ethnic crisis. Thereafter, ANC's Deputy Leader Ramaphosa was announced as the special envoy to deal with ANC's Sri Lanka assignment as well as to handle the turbulent situation in South Sudan.
Ramaphosa had even been a confidant of Nelson Mandela. In his 30s he handled the issues of the mine workers' union in South Africa. In his 40s he was identified by Mandela as an able person who could deal with the issues pertaining to the ANC. Ramaphosa is expected to be South Africa's next Vice President. So what we could understand is that his experience would help in handling complicated issues to a greater extent.
The TNA had an extensive discussion with Ramaphosa. We brought to his notice issues such as land grabbing, as well as unresolved post-war humanitarian issues. He seemed to be a good listener. Ramaphosa also met the Lankan Government delegation led by de Silva in February. The South African Special Envoy is expected to embark on his Lankan mission after the South African polls next month.
The TNA has shown an interest in the outcome of South Africa's TRC. Do you think Sri Lanka's home grown LLRC is a failure?
A: Three consecutive UNHRC sessions in Geneva have said the LLRC has failed to address the expectations of the Tamils. Several aspects have been included in the LLRC. But nothing has been mentioned on accountability over alleged war crimes or an extensive investigation into war related matters. Therefore, we see that the LLRC has failed in addressing core issues towards strengthening the reconciliation process. So we believe that the lessons from the TRC would help in dealing with our issues.
What are the aspects you consider viable from South Africa's TRC for greater reconciliation process in Sri Lanka?
A: Before considering anything on the lines of South Africa's TRC, a political solution should be reached to resolve the Tamil question. Even the TRC was established after a political solution was reached in South Africa between the minority Whites and the majority Blacks. Therefore, in the backdrop of a healthy political solution, the TRC led by Rev. Desmond Tutu succeeded in healing the wounds of the apartheid regime in the past.
We cannot expect a healthy reconciliation without reaching a political solution. Since the civil war came to an end in the island, hardly anything has been done in finding a durable solution. There are various good aspects found in the TRC to be followed. But, a political solution must first be reached to strengthen the reconciliation process.
Several hardliners and even some of the veteran leftists commenting on the proposed South African mediation has criticized third party mediation and had said the TNA should first of all participate at the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to make the political process a success. What is your view on this issue?
A: I don't see any change in the attitude of hardliners towards our problem. They have been repeating their criticism whenever we consider something constructive. We have clearly stated our stance with regard to the PSC to the government. The TNA has participated in 18 rounds of talks with the government, but they were not fruitful. The South African mediation process has been initiated by Rajapaksa. Since we have been adopting a stance to cooperate in whatever good efforts made toward addressing our political issues, we have agreed on the South African attempt. We firmly believe that only through a credible third party mediation we could overcome our issues.
Ramaphosa during his meeting with the TNA has said that he would visit Sri Lanka shortly to begin the facilitation process. How do you see his proposed visit?
A: He is expected to visit the island after South Africa's elections next month. The government and the TNA have extended the invitation for him to visit the island. Ramaphosa is expected to study the situation himself with the meetings he intends to have with a cross section of political parties. He is also expected to travel to the North and East.
Ramaphosa's visit to the island will be more on preparing himself on the mediation process, which has been tasked to him.
For the past one month the Northern Province was somewhat put on 'red alert.' The government, while claiming that the LTTE is in the process of regrouping, even launched a search operation for three LTTE cadres recently. What is your comment on the issue?
A: When the government is put against the wall, these sorts of things happen. We clearly say that locally or internationally there is no move to regroup the LTTE or revamp the militancy. There are several questions that remain unanswered over the entire issue. We have no evidence at all to claim that the LTTE is re-emerging.
The JHU has demanded that you should be arrested with Suresh Premachnadran and NPC Councillor Ananthy Sasitharan. What is your response?
A: I don't take notice of what they say. It is absurd wasting my time and energy in responding to them.

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