President Mahinda Rajapaksa had a special message for his cabinet ministers. He told them at the weekly meeting on Wednesday they would all have to be present in Parliament the next day, Thursday. However, he did not tell them why.
Senior Minister P. Dayaratne was to point out that he had to be at the Kachcheri in Ampara, which district he represents as MP, to hand over nomination papers of UPFA candidates for the local polls. "Hand over that task to your Private Secretary and make sure you are present in Parliament," replied Rajapaksa. That was a clear message for all ministers that the nominations for local polls notwithstanding, they would have to be in Parliament. Similar messages also went out to all UPFA parliamentarians.
Both Ministers and MPs realised this must be because of a likely Presidential presence in Parliament but they were not sure what Rajapaksa was going to say in the House, for the first time making use of provisions of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution that enables his presence on any occasion. This is with the exception of ceremonial events or the presentation of the budget as Minister of Finance. The first indication came from outside the shores of Sri Lanka.
The Chennai-based Hindu newspaper's web portal reported that the President was to announce that the state of emergency was to be withdrawn. It was perhaps an inspired leak by media staffers at the President's office and not without reason. The Sri Lanka High Commission in New Delhi had reported that issues related to the country may be debated both by the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha on Thursday. The Sri Lanka issue was to come up earlier but the on-going fast by Gandhian Anna Hazare, who has mobilised the Indian nation over anti-graft legislation, had led to postponements. The debate in the Lok Sabha was to see External Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishna make a strong statement. More on that later.
Doing away with Emergency Regulations
At 1 p.m. on Thursday, an hour ahead of sittings, Rajapaksa walked into the chamber to read out a statement. It was nationally televised and broadcast over radio. The penultimate paragraph in his speech said it all: "I would like to present to this august assembly, the proposal to do away with the Emergency Regulations for administrative activities to function democratically under the ordinary law. This is because I am satisfied that there is no longer a need for extending the Emergency Regulations for the administration of the country now. Therefore, I propose not to extend the Emergency Regulations."
First to edited excerpts of Rajapaksa's speech: "As the President who has participated most in the affairs of Parliament since the Executive Presidency was established, I am in Parliament today to further demonstrate my determination that there should be closer links between Parliament and the Presidency…………..
"The brutal terrorism waged by the LTTE in tandem with the destruction of places of worship, livelihoods of the people and property in the Black July of 1983 created an unfortunate environment where the country had to be governed by Emergency Regulations. The terrorism and insurrection in the South in 1988/89 with the systemic increase of the assassination of politicians led to justifying the continuation of Emergency Regulations. The State of Emergency was removed with the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement in 2002 with international cooperation, seeking to open the way to peace. However, the Emergency Regulations had to be brought back with the LTTE's large scale violation of the Ceasefire Agreement and the demonstration of the height of its terror with the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.
"When I took over the leadership and administration of the country in 2005, what we inherited was this environment of Emergency.
|President Rajapaksa in Parliament on Thursday reads out proposal to end Emergency Regulations
"Although we made strong efforts to proceed with the peace talks that had been initiated at the time I assumed office in 2005, the brutal killing of people by the LTTE at Kebithigollawa and the later closure of the Mavil Aru Anicut led to our having to launch a Humanitarian Operation. The liberation of the East and the subsequent liberation of the North from terror were done under this environment. Emergency Regulations became necessary and useful for providing relief to a large number of innocent people who had been taken hostage by the forces of terror and were released from terror with the liberation of the entire North and East, as well as for carrying out urgent measures for their resettlement.
"You are aware that even before 2005 there were several occasions when there was censorship of the press under Emergency Regulations. However, although we were compelled to carry out a massive battle against the most ruthless terrorist organization in the world, at no time in the term of our government has there been a control or censorship of the press under Emergency Regulations. Although some sections of the media caused grave obstacles to the Humanitarian Operation up to this time we have not carried out any media censorship. I believe this is a very good means of showing the world that we were engaged in a genuine humanitarian operation. It is with considerable regret that I state that this media freedom is being betrayed today to discredit the Humanitarian Operation that we carried out.
"The Humanitarian Operation between June 2006 and May 2009 enabled us to eradicate terrorism from the country. From then on, our main responsibility was to open up that terrain for proper livelihoods to the people and for this purpose, to remove landmines, and supply basic infrastructure facilities directed at resettling the displaced people. We were able to achieve admirable success in this. Of nearly 300,000 persons who were displaced, we have now resettled all but 8,000 in their former places of living. We have established schools, health centres and administrative facilities in those areas. To restore proper community life and provide necessary livelihood facilities, we have restored agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries, tourism, commerce and trade and financial activities to necessary levels. At present the people in these areas are harvesting the Yala crop and also reaping a good harvest of onions, vegetables and other supplementary crops. These people are engaged in fisheries and animal husbandry and have begun to engage in higher level of activity in trade and commerce…………
"Not only has the entire country been freed of terrorism and reconstruction been done in these areas that suffered under terrorism, within this short period we have also held Local Government Elections and thereby strengthened the system of democratic administration. It is our expectation to hold elections to the Provincial Council next year. By this means we have been able to give the people of the North the same rights and opportunities as available to people in other regions to participate in the elections for Pradeshiya Sabas, Provincial Councils, Parliament and the Presidency…………..
"From the time when terrorist activities ended in May 2009 until today there have been no reports of any terrorist activities, other than the imaginary "Grease Demon". During this period, through the conduct of several elections, the country moved further towards democracy. Society has accepted that these were peaceful and fair elections. Accordingly, in the recent past we have been removing various clauses of the Emergency Regulations and steadily bringing society to normal administration. Internationally too, it is now accepted that there are no reports of terrorist activity in Sri Lanka.
We have also introduced to Parliament internationally-recognized laws and regulations to avoid malpractices in monetary activities, exchange of goods, drug trafficking, banking and financial risks carried out by terrorists engaged in further nurturing terrorism. In addition to strengthening national security we have through these laws and regulations worked towards pre-empting opportunities for terrorism to emerge. We are proud to mention that our government has succeeded in protecting law and order and peace through rules and regulations approved by Parliament based on the Constitution. Therefore, it is our responsibility to protect the democratic freedom achieved after many years.
"It is under the ordinary law that the state administration, police and the judiciary take actions against those who take law into their hands and disturb peace and stability. This is a great victory achieved by the people. This success was possible for the country because our heroic soldiers accomplished the Humanitarian Operation with great dedication and in an exemplary manner, and the people of this country extended their generosity and patience. What we can benefit from this is immense. We laid the foundation to strengthen our country as a rising democracy in Asia.
"For several years this Parliament has extended the Emergency Regulations every month. Some voted against it while some abstained. This august assembly is enriched by representing all political parties in the country. Through this representation we can consider the Speaker and Hon. Members of this House numbering 225, as a great asset that brings together the multiplicity of views in the country. It is nurtured by all ethnicities and religions as well as those who hold liberal and progressive views. All of them have gained wide experience in the recent past. Among these representatives are about 40 young members. We have for the first time an opportunity to find solutions for problems in our country within a democratic framework, without any influence from terrorists. Therefore, on behalf of the people of this country, I request Parliament to grant this opportunity to them through Parliament.
"I would like to present to this august assembly, the proposal to do away with the Emergency Regulations for administrative activities to function democratically under the ordinary law. This is because I am satisfied that there is no longer a need for extending the Emergency Regulations for the administration of the country now. Therefore, I propose not to extend the Emergency Regulations."
The current phase of the state of emergency came after the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar on August 12, 2005. The last monthly proclamation Rajapaksa issued to extend the emergency was on July 30, 2011.
According to the Public Security (Amendment) Law, No. 6 of 1978, a Proclamation of Emergency (bringing into operation part II of the Public Security Ordinance) will be operative for one month and had to be passed in Parliament within fourteen days from the date on which the provisions of Part II come into operation. Relevant subsections of Article 155 of the 1978 Constitution, meanwhile, require Parliament to meet within 10 days of the making of a proclamation and further require that such proclamation be approved by a resolution of Parliament. If such approval is not given, the proclamation shall lapse within 14 days. A proclamation will be in effect for 30 days and no proclamation made within the next 30 days ensuing shall come into operation until approved by a resolution of Parliament. Thus, the on-going state of emergency, if not renewed, is to lapse on August 30.
Confusion over end of Emergency
Hours after Rajapaksa made the announcement in Parliament; however, there was widespread confusion over when the withdrawal of the state of emergency would take effect. Different media reports, both local and foreign, gave different accounts in the absence of any official explanation. In fact, an English text of Rajapaksa's speech, important both to Sri Lankans, the local diplomatic community and those abroad, was not officially released. Sections of the government speculated that Rajapaksa may sign another proclamation extending the state of emergency from August 31 and expressly allow it to lapse on September 14. This is without reference to Parliament in the form of a resolution. Such a move, they argued, was to give the government time to present necessary legislation in Parliament to give legal effect to some of the steps taken earlier under the state of emergency. If the required legislation is passed before the deadline, the proclamation ending the emergency on September 14 would be annulled earlier, they claimed.
The sequence of events showed that the announcement of the withdrawal of the emergency had been done hurriedly with little time for consideration of consequential issues. However, it became clear by Friday that Rajapaksa will not sign any new proclamation thus allowing the emergency to end at midnight on August 30 (Tuesday). That categorical position has been intimated to foreign governments among others. With this move, questions arose over some important steps taken under the emergency. Among them were that the proscription of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) would be lifted, the office of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation (CGOR) would become void, thousands of ex-combatants of the LTTE would go scot free and the High Security Zones (HSZ) around the country, would become invalid.
It was found that the introduction of legislation, even if it was on an urgent basis, would entail a period of time. Urgent legislation would have meant approval by the Cabinet, a reference to the Supreme Court and then a debate in Parliament. A way out suggested by government's legal experts was to exercise provisions in Article 33 (f) of the Constitution. It states "…..the President shall have the power……… To do all such acts and things, not being inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution or written law, as by international law, custom or usage he is required or authorised to do." However, it was pointed out that former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga had drawn bitter criticism for resorting to this provision. Hence, the move was not favoured.
New regulations under PTA
Government's legal experts have come up with a way out. New regulations will be introduced under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). These regulations which will come into effect from after midnight August 30 will proscribe, among other matters, the LTTE, give legal effect to the office of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, provide for the detention of ex-Tiger guerrilla combatants and make the High Security Zones legal. These regulations are to remain in force until a new set of laws are introduced in Parliament. There is still no decision whether these would then come as amendments to the PTA or as a separate statute. Also expected to be incorporated in the regulations is a provision that will clearly define the word "terrorism." Emergency Regulations 2006 created the offence of engaging in "terrorism" or "acts of terrorism" (Regulations 6 and 20) and criminalizes certain activities, transactions and communications with persons or groups committing terrorist offences (Regulations 7, 8 and 9). Regulation 15 of the Emergency Regulations 2006 allows the President to appoint a person to be the "Competent Authority" for the purpose of exempting certain groups or individuals from engaging in otherwise prohibited transactions. There are no current provisions of this nature in the PTA. The PTA only defines unlawful activity which is a broad and generalized provision.
Though some of the provisions of the Emergency Regulations will cease at midnight on Tuesday, their presence in the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) will still empower the authorities. One relates to specific immunity for actions taken by "Public Servant or any other person specifically authorised by the Government of Sri Lanka to take action in terms of these Regulations, provided that such person has acted in good faith and in the discharge of his official duties." Another is the prevention of a Sri Lankan citizen from travelling abroad. Though the emergency regulations barring them are withdrawn, it could still be done through (Section 11 of the PTA). It provides for travel restrictions for a period of three months with the possibility of being extended for three months at a time up to a maximum of 18 months.
The Government is awaiting the return of Attorney General Mohan Peiris to finalise the draft legislation. He is now in Singapore appearing on behalf of the government in one of the three oil hedging cases. Last Wednesday, the Cabinet decided that Peiris be appointed as a Senior Advisor to the government on legal affairs upon his impending retirement as the country's Attorney General on reaching the mandatory age of retirement. He will be allowed to draw the same salary he now draws as Attorney General. In addition, he will be entitled to an official vehicle and a petrol allowance. Former Chief Justice Asoka De Silva was earlier appointed Legal Advisor to the President.
Military officers and police officers exercise extensive powers in relation to vague and general offences under the PTA. Reasons for arrest need not be given. Detention is not subjected to effective judicial control. Administrative or preventive detention may be up to one year; production of the suspect before a Magistrate must be within thirty days from the date of arrest. Where arrests are made for investigation purposes under Emergency Regulations, a person must be handed over to the nearest police station within twenty-four hours. Bail in all these instances is at the discretion of the Attorney General.
Detention may be in "places of detention" authorised by the Inspector General of Police. This essentially means police stations or undisclosed detention centres. There is no right of independent access to legal counsel or medical examination. Emergency Regulations allowed the legal admissibility of confessions made to a police officer above the rank of an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) and placed the burden of proving that they were not voluntarily made, on the accused.
In the post-war amendment regulation of May 2010, the interpretation of the law has changed somewhat. Preventive detention may now be permitted only up to three months and not one year. Production of such person is mandated to be before a Magistrate within thirty days and the Magistrate must also be notified of the detention of such person within seventy two hours of arrest. Emergency Regulations permitting the admissibility of confessions was repealed.
Under PTA no change in
Yet under provisions of the PTA, there is effectively no real change in the emergency regime. Preventive detention orders (made under Section 9 of the PTA) by the Defence Secretary cannot be effectively scrutinized by a Magistrate and may extend to eighteen months with detention orders being extended three months at a time. Suspects arrested under Section 6(1) ("connected with or concerned in or reasonably suspected of being connected with or concerned in any unlawful activity") may be detained for seventy-two hours. Thereafter, if a preventive detention order has not been made, such suspect should be taken before a Magistrate, who then compulsorily ("shall") remand the suspect until the conclusion of the trial (Sections 7 (1) and (2) of the PTA.
Moreover, the PTA continues to allow the admissibility of confessions given to police officers above the rank of an ASP and imposes a burden on the accused to prove that the confession was not voluntary. Both the Emergency Regulations and the PTA allow for persons to be detained in irregular places of detention: that is, persons are not required to be held in a regular police station, detention centre, penal institution or prison, as would normally be the case.
President Rajapaksa's announcement in Parliament proposing to withdraw the state of emergency comes just two weeks ahead of the meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Their 18th sessions are due to begin on September 13. A closer look at his speech makes clear that he has, though in brief, addressed concerns expressed by the international community with regard to the state of emergency as well as the conduct of "the humanitarian operation" or the campaign to defeat militarily the Tiger guerrillas from June 2006 to May 2009.
The government has gone into full gear to counter any possible efforts to raise the Sri Lankan issue at the UNHRC in Geneva. Sri Lanka's diplomatic missions are being briefed. Sri Lanka's new Ambassador to Geneva, Tamara Kunanayakam, has been told to get in touch particularly with the Latin American group of countries (who are members of the UNHRC) since she is a fluent Spanish speaker. Deputy External Affairs Minister Neomal Perera will undertake a tour of four South American countries which are members of the UNHRC to lobby their support for Sri Lanka. They are Guatemala, Mexico, Uruguay and Peru.
On Tuesday, External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris gave a briefing on the government's position to heads of Colombo-based diplomatic missions. If his previous position was to declare the report of the UN panel of experts on alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka illegal and assert that Sri Lanka should not be a matter for discussion at the UNHRC, this time he appealed for more time and space. The remarks came days ahead of a visit to Colombo by one of US State Department's articulate and respected officials, a onetime Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Robert Blake. He is now Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs and arrives in Colombo tomorrow.
Blake to meet President
Blake is likely to have a breakfast meeting with President Rajapaksa. On his last visit in early May, however, he failed to obtain a meeting with him. Among others he will meet are Ministers Peiris, Nimal Siripala de Silva and Mahinda Samarasinghe. The latter, though Minister of Plantation Industries, has been tasked to head successive Sri Lanka delegations to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Among other matters, Blake's talks in Colombo are to centre on two main issues. One is the US government's proposal for an "interactive dialogue" once the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) comes out with its report on November 15, this year. For this purpose, the US wants to list its proposal at the 18th UNHRC sessions that begin on September 13. This is for the subject to be discussed at the 19th sessions in March next year. The rationale behind the US move is said to be the fact that such a proposal would obviate the listing of the UN panel of inquiry report on the UNHCR agenda. However, the government has already rejected Washington's move on the grounds that it would pave the way for internationalising the Sri Lankan issue. Hence, government sources say "what is required for us is more space and time."
Another issue Blake is expected to raise is his government's call for the Rajapaksa administration to resume the dialogue with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). The TNA has broken off talks on the grounds that the government has not come up with concrete proposals to address Tamil grievances. The US has taken up the position that a dialogue with the TNA should go parallel to the proposed Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC). Since the imbroglio with TNA, 18 government parliamentarians including 13 ministers have given notice of a motion for the appointment of a PSC.
During his briefing to foreign envoys, one of the diplomats asked External Affairs Minister Peiris about the proposed PSC and why there has been no reference to either Tamil issues, the North or the East. In its front page lead story last week, the Sunday Times reported that contrary to earlier expectations of a PSC to address Tamil grievances, the government will now appoint one "to recommend and report political and constitutional measures to empower the people of Sri Lanka as one nation." Peiris replied that the parameters for the PSC were so far and wide that it could discuss a broader spectrum of issues.
Here is the full text of the motion submitted by 18 UPFA parliamentarians among whom are 13 ministers:
[ Seventh Parliament -First Session]
No. 4 (1).]
ADDENDUM TO THE ORDER BOOK No. 4 OF PARLIAMENT
Issued on Friday, August 12, 2011
Taken From: (Page 77)
NOTICE OF MOTIONS FOR WHICH NO DATES HAVE BEEN FIXED
P. 137/ '11
Hon. A. D. Susil Premajayantha
Hon. Patali Champika Ranawaka
Hon. Rauf Hakeem
Hon. (Prof) Tissa Vitarana
Hon. Douglas Devananda
Hon. Dinesh Gunawardena
Hon. Maithripala Sirisena
Hon. Vasudeva Nanayakkara
Hon. Risad Badhiutheen
Hon. Basil Rohana Rajapaksa
Hon. V. S. Radhakrishnan
Hon. DEW Gunasekara
Hon. Muthu Sivalingam
Hon. Perumal Rajathurai
Hon. Rajiva Wijesinha
Hon. Dullas Alahapperuma,- Select Committee of Parliament to recommend and report political and constitutional measures to empower the people of Sri Lanka as one nation,-
WHEREAS a unique opportunity has arisen for the people of Sri Lanka to unite and work together as a nation towards the economic, social and political development of the country and its citizens;
AND WHEREAS to this end it is opportune to take steps to enhance the unity of the people of Sri Lanka and empower them to take decisions and engage in actions towards their economic, social and political development;
AND WHEREAS a Select Committee of Members of Parliament being a committee of the elected representatives of the people are best equipped to determine the nature and scope of steps to be taken to enable the aforesaid.
This Parliament resolves as follows:
A Select Committee of Parliament be appointed to recommend to this House within 6 months the initiative appropriate to achieve political and constitutional measures to-
(a) enhance the unity of the people of Sri Lanka;
(b) further empower the people to work as a nation; and
(c) enable the people to take decisions and engage in actions towards their economic, social and political development.
2. (a) That the Committee and its Chairman shall be nominated by Mr. Speaker.
(b) That notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order 95, the Committee shall consist of not more than thirty one (31) members.
3. The said Select Committee of Parliament is empowered to-
(a) determine its quorum,
(b) summon such persons and documents as it deemed necessary;
(c) examine, on oath or affirmation and person so summoned;
(d) continue notwithstanding the adjournment of Parliament from time to time,
(e) submit interim reports from time to time.
Will Opposition parties serve in PSC
The motion has now been listed in the Order Book. Even if Rajapaksa failed to make any reference to the PSC in his speech, Peiris' comments to Colombo-based envoys confirm government's commitment to go ahead with it. However, the important question is whether any of the major opposition parties would serve in the PSC. TNA leaders are now in India. The TNA's Batticaloa District MP Pon Selvarasa told the Sunday Times, "Our opinion is that we should not take part in the proposed PSC process. In the past we have seen that such select committees and All Party Conferences have failed to produce any results to resolve the problems of the Tamils.
Therefore, the TNA does not want to take part in the proposed Select Committee process. However the party members are to decide on it after their return from India," he said.
The withdrawal of the state of emergency drew commendations from the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. His spokesperson Farhan Haque told the Sunday Times on Friday: "The Secretary-General welcomes President Rajapaksa's announcement that he will lift the emergency regulations which have remained in place since Sri Lanka's conflict. We look forward to studying the details of this decision and the full implications. We hope this will quickly lead to a more comprehensive review of all security-related legislation in Sri Lanka, including the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and the cases of all security detainees." Among other countries that have welcomed the move are the United States, Britain, the Maldives and Australia.
India's External Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishna also welcomed the move but made one of his strongest speeches in the Lok Sabha during the debate on Sri Lanka on Thursday. Here are edited excerpts of what he said:
"Madam Speaker, however much I wanted to be present in this House, when the Leader of the DMK Party in Lok Sabha, my esteemed friend, Shri T.R. Baalu moved the motion, I could not do so. He made a very well-reasoned and very well-received speech. … It was followed by yet another very elegant speech by my distinguished predecessor, Shri Jaswant Singh. He brought in, to this debate, some perspective……
"There could be differences in emphasis when bilateral relationships are concerned but the Foreign Policy of any country has to be a flowing one. The Government will have to carry on with the same set of policies when the Governments change over. The present Government will continue to be guided by all the cumulative wisdom and experience of all the Members of this hon. House…….
"This problem of human rights violation has to be condemned by the Government of India. Since the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka, the focus of Government of India has been shifted to the welfare and wellbeing of the Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka. Rehabilitation and rebuilding their lives have been the highest and the most immediate priority. It is exactly this, which Government of India has been attempting to assist in our efforts in cooperation with the Sri Lankan Government.
For welfare of Tamils
" Our primary objective in all that we are doing in Sri Lanka is to ensure the welfare and wellbeing of Sri Lankan Tamils including IDPs and to assist in the development of Northern Sri Lanka……. Some Members have raised the issue of the Report of the UN Secretary General's Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka. India has taken note of the Report. We have heard the views of the Sri Lankan Government including the assessment of the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka who was here in the month of May this year. During my meeting with him, and also in Colombo, when TROIKA met, I had taken it up in the strongest possible terms that it is necessary for Sri Lanka to address the human rights violation. India has always championed the cause of human rights which is so very dear to us. Right from the days of Mahatma Gandhi and Pundit Nehru, we have always advocated very vehemently about human rights. So, we have exactly done that with the present regime in Sri Lanka. It may be recalled that the Panel was set up by the UN Secretary General with the objective of advising him on developments in Sri Lanka particularly in the last stages of conflict in 2009.
"In general, there are still questions on the Report and the issue has not so far come up for discussion in the formal agenda of any relevant UN intergovernmental body. It could come up. I will go to the United Nations in the month of September. I am sure that not only India but also many other countries are equally concerned about the human rights violations there. There are other countries which are as much worked up as India is. We certainly will work in coordination with all the other countries which share our perception. Our perception is a very constructive one. We do not want to endanger our relationship with Sri Lanka.
"But none-the-less, every country has certain parameters on human rights. All of us are bound by those parameters. To that extent, the Government of India stands committed for the human rights. If there are violations, I think, the Sri Lankan Government initially must make its own enquiries, its own investigations in a manner which is transparent. So, it should not be a make-believe one. It has to be transparent and it has to be a very honest approach. The Government of Sri Lanka have conveyed to us that they are willing to do that and they are in the process of doing that.
"We have been encouraged by the existence of the structured dialogue mechanism between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil National Alliance. We were concerned with the recent breakdown and the resulting stalemate. But now we encourage both the parties to the dialogue to resume purposeful discussions towards arriving at a genuine political settlement. The Government of India is of the view that the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka provided an opportunity to pursue a lasting political settlement in Sri Lanka within the framework of a united Sri Lanka, acceptable to all the communities including the Tamils. It has to be, however, kept in mind that this is a longstanding issue and Sri Lanka is going through its internal processes. The sooner Sri Lanka can come to a political arrangement within which all the communities feel comfortable, and which works for all of them, the better. The Government of India will do whatever it can to support this process.
"In this context, our emphasis has been to persuade the Sri Lankan Government to move towards a new system of institutional reforms, including a devolution package, building upon the 13th Amendment. The Joint Press Statement issued on May 17 after the Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister's visit to Delhi stated this position. We would continue to impress on the Sri Lankan Government to pursue these institutional reforms so that the Tamil people will have a feeling that they are equal citizens of Sri Lanka and that they can lead a life of dignity and self-respect as equals in that Island nation. "
"We have also noted the President of Sri Lanka's decision announced yesterday to withdraw the state of emergency when it lapses at the end of this month. This, in our view, is a very welcome step. We hope that this will be followed by effective steps leading to genuine national reconciliation in that country."
This week's events show that the government had to yield to some international pressure to withdraw the state of emergency. It should not be lulled into the notion that the move is a panacea for all the issues now confronting Sri Lanka. The conduct of foreign policy or none of it, no doubt, has been one of the main reasons for ad hoc and embarrassing decisions. The coming weeks will be crucial. Both, the sessions of the UN General Assembly in New York and the UNHCR in Geneva come next month.