By M.I.M. Mohideen

Muslims and the North-East interim council
At the press conference held recently in Kilinochchi, the LTTE leaders have said that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's government is not politically stable or authoritative or powerful enough to provide a permanent solution to the core demands of the Tamils. It is because of that the LTTE had suggested the formation of an interim administrative setup so that the LTTE can run the administration in the North-East. Also they have said that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe will have enough space to build up South Sri Lanka economically, so it would be advantageous for the Tamils as well as the Sinhalese to work out an interim setup for the time being.

In the ceasefire agreement, the government and the LTTE have referred the Muslims as a group of people not directly a party to the North-East conflict and now an interim administrative set up is contemplated to enable the LTTE to run the North-East for the advantage of the Tamils. Under these circumstances, the Muslims are very much concerned about their future in the North-East. Since most of the North-East Muslims have supported the SLMC, it is the responsibility of the Leader Rauff Hakeem to quickly negotiate with the government and the LTTE for constitutional safeguards and effective power sharing arrangements for the Muslims in the administrative setup in the North-East.

Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 proclaimed the temporary merger for an interim period of one year. The referendum at the end of one year in the Eastern Province never took place up to now although 15 years have passed. The Tamils have taken up the position that although the referendum was provided for in the Accord, it was never intended to be held or implemented, and the unlawful interim administration continues for the advantage of the Tamils.

It was the former UNP President J.R. Jayewardene who circumvented the laws passed by his own government in the Provincial Council Act, effected the temporary merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces under the emergency and made the North-East Muslims a community of political and social slaves under the Tamils. The temporary merger only helped the Tamils to conduct ethnic cleansing of the Muslims and Sinhalese from the North-East and to declare unilaterally the separate state "Tamil Eelam" and made a mockery of the concept of the Unitary State and devolution of power.

Muslims are conscious of the serious problems that are likely to arise when an interim administration is set up in the North-East without constitutional safeguards for the Muslims and Sinhalese and the surrendering of the unlawful arms and ammunition possessed by the militants. After the temporary merger, the Tamil National Army of the EPRLF, ENDLF and TELO attacked several police stations in the predominant Muslim areas in the North-East and murdered hundreds of innocent Muslims in cold blood.

The LTTE shot the Muslims in the back while praying, burned their mosques, schools, paddy fields and committed robbery of their cattle and fishing boats. They gave just two days notice for the Muslims who have been living for centuries to vacate our homes and leave the Northern Province. Continuous outrages by the Tamil militants against the Muslim civilian population have made thousands leave their homes in the North-East.

The proposed interim administrative set up in the North-East region should be accompanied by adequate safeguards and effective power sharing arrangements for the Muslims. There are five important concerns:

(1) The separate and distinct identity of the Muslims and the areas of historical habitation of the Muslims should be preserved and protected.

(2) The Law and Order in the areas of the historical habitation of the Muslims should be in the hands of the Muslims.

(3) Constitutional arrangements should be made to ensure that in the representation to the Interim Council, Muslims should enjoy and exercise effective political power and influence.

(4) Adequate arrangements should be made to ensure that with regard to employment and economic investments, the predominant Muslim areas should have an equitable share.

(5) Institutional arrangements should be worked out to link the Muslim majority Divisional Secretariats and the Pradeshiya Sabhas in the North-East region in such a manner as to constitute separate administrative and political units within the region.
Although patronising remarks and promises have been made by the Tamils in the actual practice every effort is being made to cripple and destroy the legitimate rights of the Muslims. It has therefore become an absolute necessity for the Muslims in the North-East to take independent constitutional safeguards to protect their lives and the areas of historical habitation.

The Muslims have never asked for anything more than what is legitimately due to us them citizens of Sri Lanka. We have not asked for separation of the country nor have we resorted to terrorism to settle our grievances. While solving the Tamil problem, the government should not create once again the Muslims a community of political and social slaves under the Tamils in the North-East. It is hoped that the government would not desire the betrayal of the Muslims at a crucial time and force the Muslim youths to become militants to fight another war in the future for our rights.

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