Ten Indian MPs from Tamil Nadu arrived in Colombo yesterday to assess the ground situation in the northern and eastern camps for the internally displaced people.
According to Sri Lankan government and Indian High Commission sources, the visit was a result of a formal invitation President Mahinda Rajapaksa sent to Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi three months ago.
“President Rajapaksa had initiated the whole process by extending an invitation to Mr. Karunanidhi to visit Sri Lanka,” Minister Arumugam Thondaman told the Sunday Times. Mr. Thondaman had himself gone to Chennai with the invitation from Rajapaksa to Mr. Karunanidhi in July.
Later, a high-powered Tamil Nadu political delegation led by India’s home minister P Chidambaram had met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on September 22, urging him to request the Rajapaksa government to allow an all-party team of Indian Parliamentarians to visit post-war camps in Sri Lanka.
The team that arrived yesterday comprises five MPs from DMK, four from the Congress Party and one from the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK). They will be here till Wednesday. During their stay, the MPs are expected to travel to Vavuniya, Jaffna, Trincomalee and other places in northern and eastern provinces where people displaced by the war have been living in Sri Lankan government-run camps.
Senior DMK leader T R Baalu who is the party’s MP from Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu is leading the delegation that also includes Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi. She is a DMK member in the upper house of the Indian Parliament.
A K S Vijayan, Helen Davidson and T K S Elangovan are the other DMK representatives in the team. Sudarshan Nachiappan, N S V Chittan, Aaron Rashid and S Alagiri are the four visiting Congress MPs while Thol Thirumavalavan is the VCK representative in the team. According to Indian High Commission sources, the MPs may also visit Nuwara Eliya and Kandy.
While the Indian MPs are being welcomed by the Sri Lankan government, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is still awaiting a response from the Rajapaksa administration on its request for its MPs to visit the Manik Farm to meet the IDPs.
TNA parliamentarians had met Mr. Rajapaksa over a month ago, seeking approval to go to the camps.
“The government is yet to respond to our request to visit the camps,” TNA MP Suresh Premachandran said.
In a related development, the Supreme Court has asked the Attorney-General’s Department to give a reply on why the Government denied opposition MPs access to IDPs camps. This case filed by five opposition parliamentarians will be taken up again on October 27.
In a letter to Premier Sing, the DMK and Congress MPs had said that the war-displaced Tamils living in camps should be resettled in their places of origin soon.
“The Sri Lankan government should use the Rs 500-crore rehabilitation grant made by India for this purpose,” Congress Party’s Tamil Nadu leader K V Thangkabalu, told the Sunday Times over telephone from Chennai.
S S Palinimanickam, junior minister and DMK parliamentarian from Tanjavur in Tamil Nadu, said, “Tamils should be treated on par with the Sinhala population now that the war is over.”
Speaking to the Sunday Times over telephone from New Delhi, the junior finance minister said, “some areas in the northern and eastern provinces are not mined even according to Sri Lankan parliamentarians. Demining will not be needed there. Why can’t the Sri Lankan government send people back to their homes in those places?”
Mr. Palinimanickam and his party colleagues had raised questions on the Sri Lankan Government’s demining project at the meeting with Mr. Singh. The Sri Lankan government is insisting that demining would have to be completed in the war-ravaged areas before resettling the IDPs. “President Rajapaksa had made commitments about taking care of the Tamils. Now, he should actually do so and not just pay lip service to India,” Mr. Palinimanickam said.
The uninhabited island of Kachativu which has been a contentious subject between India and Sri Lanka over the past few decades was also discussed at the meeting with Mr. Singh.
“A number of attacks have been made on the fishermen of Tamil Nadu by the Sri Lankan Navy in the waters surrounding Kachativu Island. These incidents are of serious concern to us,” Mr. Thangkabalu said.
On Friday the main opposition UNP told parliament it was a breach of privilege to deny opposition MPs access to the camps while MPs from other countries were allowed to go there. The speaker said he would look into the matter and give a ruling.