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Minority party leaders have hailed the PA-UNP agreement on bipartisanship as a big and historical step towards finding a fair solution to the ethnic conflict.
In interviews with The Sunday Times, party leaders M.H.M. Ashraff and S. Thondaman, aften dubbed as Kingmakers said they did not feel sidelined in not being consulted about the agreement. They said the deal was totally a matter for the two major parties and also an essential first step towards finding a solution. Excerpts from interviews: By Roshan Peiris
TULF leader M. Sivasithamparam:
The PA-UNP accord on bipartisanship is a landmark in our history. In the past whenever one party in office proposed an acceptable solution to the ethnic conflict, the opposition attacked and buckled it that was how the BC - pact in 1957 was undermined and when the Dudley-Chelvanayakam was proposed, slogans such as Dudleyge bade masala wade were shouted.
"Thus the decision by the two main parties to rise above party differences in finding a solution is a big and historic step.
"Regarding the recent agreement, nobody should think the Tamil parties were sidelined despite their support for the PA. We have not been sidelined. Nobody should impute ulterior motives to the PA-UNP accord. I believe it was essential for the two parties to unite if a practical solution acceptable to all the people is to be found.
"Both the Sinhala and Tamil people have suffered enough and lost enough .
At last, now there's a ray of hope
Minister and CWC leader S. Thondaman
"This agreement, though welcome, would mean little unless it is seriously implemented. So we must wait and see.
"I need not feel leftout or sidelined regarding this agreement as the two major political parties, they had the right to decide on this just as I would have decided on something good for CWC.
Though I have been dubbed as a Kingmaker, that is not relevent to this issue." I am not disappointed that my offer of mediation between the government and the LTTE was not accepted. Why are people referring to those old issues. Lets get on with what is taking place now. That is what that counts."
Minister and SLMC leader M.H.M. Ashraff:
We welcome this agreement because the SLMC has always believed that the ethnic issue is not just the problem of the PA or the UNP but a national problem.
It should be looked at in a national perspective and not from a party point of view. The PA-UNP agreement is a positive and hopeful step in the right direction."
The next move will be to find ways of solving the crisis. At that stage I believe the PA and UNP leaders will consult the Muslim and the Tamil Parties. We don't feel we were sidelined when the agreement was drawn up because it was necessary for the two main parties to unite first and later consult others.
"I never considered myself to be a Kingmaker, whatever some people chose to say. I am proud to say that we are a responsible national-minded party. We are not petty or parochial in our attitudes, especially on national issues. We look at such issues with an open mind in an objective manner with a view to bringing about better governance of the country.
A spokesman for the EPDP said they welcomed the agreement in the belief that something concrete would come out of it.
"We believe the role the Tamil parties have to play is that of a midwife. The baby has to delivered by the two major Parties. This has always been our stand.
"We did not in anyway feel sidelined. We welcome it because we have always advocated that the PA and UNP must get together to solve the Tamil problem," he said.
Mauritius, where Tamils make up ten percent of the population, is closely watching the developments in Sri Lanka's ethnic crisis, the visiting Mauritius Deputy Prime Minister, Paul Raymond Berenger said.
Giving a public lecture on Indian Ocean Rim Association of Regional Cooperation (IORARC) and its challenges, at the BMICH on Thursday, Mr. Berenger said Mauritius, a multi-ethnic country like Sri Lanka, welcomed the recent PA-UNP agreement adopting a bipartisan approach in finding a solution to Sri Lanka's ethnic problem.
Mr. Berenger, who is also the foreign minister of Mauritius, said he was heartened by the views President Chandrika Kumaratunga was holding regarding the ethnic conflict. "I appreciate her vision for peace," he said in a post-lecture question session. The lecture was organised by the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies.
Mr. Berenger who was on a regional tour after his country was elected to chair the IORARC at its recent meeting in Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius, denied strongly any LTTE activity there.
Commenting on IORARC, Mr. Berenger said it was basically a trade and economic body and it would avoid sensitive and controversial issues such as human rights and politics at its fora.
Asked why Sri Lanka was kept out of the original IORARC meeting in 1995, he said it was an issue of the past. Sri Lanka was one of the first countries which showed great interest when the Indian Ocean Rim was mooted by Australia in the early 1990s. However, the Australian initiative gave way to the Mauritius plan in 1995.
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