COLOMBO, Jan 27 (PTI): Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe has underlined the need to fully implement the India-backed 13th Amendment to the Constitution to grant political autonomy to the minority Tamils in the country.
Addressing an all-party meeting on Thursday, Wickremesinghe also said that if anyone opposed the full implementation of 13A, the Parliament must take steps to abolish the law.
The 13A provides for the devolution of power to the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. India has been pressing Sri Lanka to implement the 13A which was brought in after the Indo-Sri Lankan agreement of 1987.
Wickremesinghe, who took over as the president last year amidst the unprecedented economic crisis and political turmoil, said that as the head of the nation, it was his duty to implement the prevailing laws.
“As the president, I am duty bound to implement the prevailing law of the country,” Wickremesinghe said.
Stating that the 13A would be fully implemented on the same basis as it was already a part of the country’s Constitution, he said: “If not, parliament must take steps to abolish the 13A”.
The all-party conference came closely on the heels of the visit by the Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar who had emphasised India’s wish to see the full implementation of 13A.
The 13A became part of Sri Lanka’s constitution due to direct intervention by India in Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict way back in 1987.
The provincial council system was part of the Indo-Lanka Accord signed by the then-Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and President JR Jayewardene.
Wickremesinghe in mid-December had initiated talks with the minority Tamil political groups in order to achieve reconciliation by February 4, the 75th anniversary of the independence of Sri Lanka from Britain.
“We are in a unitary state, I am against a federal state, but agreeable to devolution. Sri Lanka’s provincial councils have less power than the London municipality,” Wickremesinghe said.
Wickremesinghe said that he would be making a special parliamentary address on February 8 incorporating the 13A implementation and other issues concerning the Tamils such as the release of lands held for military purposes.
He said no one would opt for a division of the country and would welcome further proposals from interested parties on the issue.
Tamil parties up to Thursday’s meeting had complained of a lack of progress in talks with Wickremesinghe since mid-December.
Sri Lanka has had a long history of failed negotiations to end the Tamil claim of discrimination by allowing some form of political autonomy.
An Indian effort in 1987 that created the system of a joint provincial council for the Tamil-dominated north and east faltered as the Tamils claimed it fell short of full autonomy.
Tamils say that not enough power had been devolved to the provincial councils to make them meaningful.
Wickremesinghe himself tried an aborted constitutional effort between 2015-19 which too came to be scuttled by the hardline majority politicians.
The Tamils put forward their demand for autonomy since gaining independence from Britain in 1948 which from the mid-70s turned into a bloody armed conflict.