This Article is From Jan 20, 2015

Ready to Give Tamils More Autonomy, Says Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe

Ready to Give Tamils More Autonomy, Says Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe has said his government is ready for devolution of powers to Sri Lankan Tamils. (Reuters)

Colombo: Sri Lanka's new Prime Minister Ranil Wickramesinghe today vowed to implement the India-backed 13th Amendment within a unitary framework for the devolution of power to provinces, to achieve reconciliation with the minority Tamil community.

"We will implement the 13A within a unitary framework," Mr Wickremesinghe said in his maiden address to Parliament convened for the first time since President Maithripala Sirisena succeeded Mahinda Rajapaksa after the January 8 Presidential election.

Mr Rajapaksa's majority Sinhala nationalist regime was opposed to conferring full powers to the provincial councils, including the Tamil-dominated regions.

The issue of devolution of power also featured during Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera's visit to India this week.

India has been pressing Sri Lanka to implement the 13th Amendment on devolution of powers in "letter and spirit", and to fulfil the aspirations of the ethnic Tamils.

The 13th Amendment that followed the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of July 1987 signed between then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and then Sri Lankan President JR Jayewardene envisaged the devolution of powers to the provinces in the midst of the island's bitter ethnic conflict.

Mr Rajapaksa, who was in power from 2005 to 2014, has been credited with crushing the LLTE's violent campaign for separate heartland in 2009.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Sri Lanka's main Tamil party, had supported Mr Sirisena in this month's elections, after Mr Rajapaksa failed to implement the 13th Amendment.

TNA leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan today said that the failure to resolve the longstanding ethnic conflict has caused many of the nation's ills, and asked the new government to look into the matter.

Elaborating his government's 100-day programme, Mr Wickramesinghe said introduction of democratic reforms would form a major part of it.

"We were a coalition of different political parties with different objectives. But we got together to end the dictatorial family rule," Mr Wickremesinghe said.

In the same spirit, he said the new government welcomes proposals, ideas and criticism from all political parties.

"It is a challenge for all of us to get together in solving the national question," Mr Wickramasinghe said.

"We should not send this problem beyond the term of this Parliament," he said.

Accusing Mr Rajapaksa of undermining Parliament, Mr Wickremesinghe said the new government's priority is to strengthen it.

"Among the legislation we have to approve is a new form of government where Cabinet is linked to Parliament. That will replace the Executive Presidency," Mr Wickremesinghe said.

The 18th Amendment, which empowered Mr Rajapaksa to seek a third term, would be abolished, Mr Wickremesinghe said.

The 19th Amendment to be moved would establish independent commissions to de-politicise the key governance instruments.