By M.I.M. Mohideen

Resolve North-East Muslim question jointly
The present position in Sri Lanka is that there are two contending armies and navies within its territory. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on which the current cease-fire operates recognizes and defines the respective areas of control of the two sides.

The immediate question that arises from the present situation is whether the Sri Lankan State in its original form encompassing the entire land mass of the Island of Sri Lanka is still in existence. The answer must be in the negative because a substantial and defined area of the Island is now under the control and occupation of another military power the LTTE. The present Sri Lankan State exists and functions only within its area of control - it has shrunk in size and jurisdiction. Therefore the core issue is how this situation can be changed in order to continue with the single whole Island state.

At the International Media Conference held in Kilinochchi on April 10, to a question "do you accept Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe as your Prime Minister?" to Mr. Prabhakaran, Anton Balasingham quickly butted in and made it clear that the LTTE does not recognise the authority of the Sri Lankan State, to say "Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe is the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Mr. Prabhakaran is the Prime Minister and President of Tamil Eelam."

The present ethnic composition of the North-East is a serious impediment to the Tiger totalitarian strategy. At a Tamil National Alliance - TNA Parliamentarians meeting with Mr. Prabhakaran in April, Dr. Anton Balasingham stated "We need to bring all Tamil Speaking People under the National Leadership." When Dr. Balasingham said "Tamil Speaking People" rather than "Tamil People", it was meant to include Muslims too in the category of those who should be brought under "Tamil National Leadership." In other words according to LTTE agenda, the Muslims too will have to eschew their current leadership and accept the leadership of the LTTE, if the Muslims have to survive in LTTE controlled areas in the North-East.

The Tamil militants have murdered hundreds of Muslims in cold blood, forcibly expelled all the Muslims from the Northern Province and unlawfully occupying nearly 50,000 acres of paddy lands belonging to the Muslims in the North-East. Further, the Tamils are harassing the Muslims by verbal insinuation and insult whenever they traverse Tamil areas on their way back home from their paddy fields and business, extorting money, robbing vehicles and abducting Muslims.

However, at the LTTE leaders' international media conference on April 10, Mr. Balasingham repeated his previous apology at a public meeting in the North, on behalf of the LTTE for the forcible expulsion of the Muslims from the North by the LTTE as "a political blunder that could not be justified." Mr. Balasingham had also said, "let us forget and forgive the mistakes made in the past. Tamil Eelam is also the homeland of the Muslims and we have to live together in harmony and amity to promote peace and prosperity in the region." To a question on whether the LTTE would allow Muslim representation in the peace process, Mr. Prabhakaran replied "certainly we will allow Muslim representation in the process. It is important that the Muslim question should be resolved along with the Tamils."

The peace process involving the Northern and Eastern Provinces of the country is set to move beyond the current phase of cessation of hostilities to direct negotiations aimed at reaching a final settlement of the conflict.

It is indeed a welcome sign that the LTTE has accepted that the Muslims of Sri Lanka have a separate and distinct ethnic identity and the areas composed of the Northern and Eastern Provinces which constitute the traditional homeland of the Tamils is also the traditional homeland of the Muslims. LTTE leader Mr. Prabhakaran had said that it is important to resolve the Muslim question along with the Tamil question.

The Government of Sri Lanka for its part has also acknowledged the particular problems of the Muslims in the North-East. It is committed to the protection of the life and the areas of historical habitation-traditional homeland of the Muslims and to find a just settlement and power sharing arrangements in the North-East.

It is very important that all Muslims, irrespective of party affiliations jointly address substantive issues of the Muslims in the North-East and discuss institutional structures and frameworks for a genuine power sharing arrangement. There is an urgent need for a greater unity and broadest possible support for the resolution of North-East Muslim question.

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