Sri Lanka says no to devolution of powers

Island nation says it will not fully devolve police and land powers to provinces despite pressure from India.

The 13th amendment calls for the devolution of land and police powers to the Provincial Councils [File: AP]

Colombo, Sri Lanka – The Sri Lankan government has announced that they would not fully devolve police and land powers to provincial governments as per the country’s constitution, despite growing pressure from India’s new government.

Speaking in Parliament, Minister of External Affairs, Professor GL Peiris, said on Thursday that the government would not be implementing the 13th amendment in its current form.

The 13th amendment, which was conceptualised in 1987 after India’s mediation efforts, calls for the devolution of land and police powers to the Provincial Councils as a means to improve ties between majority Sinhala and Tamil community.

Peiris said that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had informed the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, about the government’s decision, when they met in New Delhi, and that any devolution of power could only be done following discussions with all relevant parties.

The opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) spokesperson, Suresh Premachandran, said that the TNA would not be holding talks with the government unless it was serious about reconciliation. He added that this could be achieved through the implementation of the 13th amendment.

Officer on Special Duty at the Ministry of External Affairs in India, JP Singh, told Al Jazeera that the Indian government was aware of these comments. “We have made clear our stance regarding the 13th amendment and we will continue to monitor the situation in Sri Lanka closely,” he said.

Minority Tamil state

Last week in a meeting between Modi and Rajapaksa, the newly elected Indian prime minister stressed the need for the complete implementation of the 13th amendment.

The announcement by the Sri Lankan government follows a meeting of Modi with chief minister of southern Tamil Nadu state, Jayalalithaa Jayaram, who requested the Indian government to sponsor a resolution on Sri Lanka at the United Nations. She demanded a referendum to be held among the Sri Lankan Tamils for the creation of a separate state for the minority community within Sri Lanka.

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Thiru A Ramalingam, secretary to the chief minister, said that Jayalalithaa had submitted a memorandum to the prime minister as her office was concerned about the welfare of the Tamil people, who trace their ancestry to Tamil Nadu. “There have been several resolutions passed in Tamil Nadu over the issue in Sri Lanka, the central government should heed the wishes of the people,” he said.

Spokesperson for the Sri Lankan government, Kehiliya Rambukwella, rejected the demand, stating that no foreign power could dictate terms to the Sri Lanka people.

“We ended a three decade long civil war and brought peace to the country, such a referendum will only ignite divisions that no Sri Lankan wants,” he said.

In a rare show of unity, the main opposition party, the United National Party (UNP), has supported the government’s rejection of the referendum call.

Eran Wickremeratne, UNP Member of Parliament, told media that while they support the devolution of power, they “totally reject Jayalalithaa’s call for a formation of a separate state in Sri Lanka.”

Follow Dinouk Colombage on Twitter: @dinoukc

Source: Al Jazeera