Tamil parties search for common policy and platform in Swiss capital

By Chris Kamalendran

With a Presidential Election just weeks ahead, Tamil leaders of various hues are meeting in the cooler climes of Zurich in Switzerland to formulate joint proposals to resolve grievances of the Tamil minority.
The subject has attracted both the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and opposition political parties. The reason – both are vying for the Tamil votes which are a sine qua non to win more than the mandatory 50 percent at the Presidential Election. As a result, the Government has sent its own Tamil parliamentarians whilst the newly formed United National Front (UNF) has sent its representatives.

Leaders of Tamil-speaking parties posing for a group photograph at the Zurich conference

Government Parliamentarians taking part are Ministers Douglas Devananda (EPDP), Arumugam Thondaman (CWC), Muttu Sivalingam (CWC) and P. Chandrasekaran (UPF).

Opposition politicians include R. Sampanthan (TNA), Mavai Sanathiraja (TNA), G. Ponnambalam (TNA), Suresh Premachandran (EPRLF), Mano Ganeshan (DPA), D.Sidharthan (PLOTE), V. Anandasangaree (TULF) and T. Sritharan (EPRLF-Pathmanabha Wing).

Also participating is Eastern Province Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan. The forum in Zurich has been organized by the London-based Tamil Information Centre (TIC). The man spearheading the move is N. Varadhakumar, former member of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) and now head of this International Non-Governmental Organisation (INGO). He is said to have established close links with the Indian establishment after fleeing to India following the ethnic violence in July 1983.

The TIC is paying every participant US dollars 3,000 for air travel and expenses. The invitees have been asked to place proposals from their respective parties to enable a common agreement to be reached on their demands. The once pro-LTTE Tamilnet website claimed that the meeting in Zurich was being organized with the blessings of India. However, it added, “sources in Chennai try to downplay the role of India, saying that it was primarily an initiation of the United States and Britain, with ‘reluctant’ participation from India.”

Leaders and most senior members of political groups who were one time arch rivals were seated side-by-side at the event which began on Friday and is due to end today.

“The aim of this meeting is to have a common understanding among minority parties and put forward proposals to the government in one voice,” TNA parliamentarian R. Thurairatnasingham told the Sunday Times.

He said that it was a good move to get all political parties to take an initiative to win the rights of the minorities. “All this time minority parties were working individually to bring a solution to the minority issue. This is the first time they are working together,” he said.

Minister Devananda on Friday addressing the gathering said the parties should work together at the upcoming elections while forwarding joint proposals on resolving the ethnic issue.

However, Mr. Sampanthan and Mr. Anandasangaree opposed the move and explained to the meeting that they could agree in reaching a common understanding on proposals to resolve the ethnic issue, but were not prepared to work for elections together as each party had its right to take a decision.

The organizers of the event say they chose Zurich, since it was a neutral venue, to avoid accusations from pro-LTTE groups operating in London.

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