Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse has endorsed the All Party Representative Committee (APRC)’s report to devolve power at the provincial level in the country’s north and east. The report, submitted in January, includes an action plan based on implementing the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution to enable “maximum and effective devolution of powers” to the north-east where the majority of Tamils live. This clearly represents a partial return to the Indo-Lankan Accord of 1987, which was the first attempt to end the war.
Under the deal signed by Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President JR Jayewardene, the northern and eastern provinces were merged as a concession to the Tamils. The Thirteenth Amendment also devolved a limited degree of autonomy to the provincial level, and Indian peace-keeping troops were sent in to enforce the accord and disarm the LTTE. Of course, the mission was hastily abandoned later and the war dragged on. Nationalists evidently saw the devolution of power as a good way of winning a separate State, while the LTTE predictably denounced the move as a ploy to bind Tamils more firmly to states dominated by other ethnic groups. In that sense, it would be naïve to consider the latest devolution of power package as a silver bullet for resolving the island nation’s 25-year-old conflict. Therefore, the only plausible explanation for the APRC proposal seems to be that the government now believes that a devolution package acceptable to moderate Tamils is the best way to wean them away from the LTTE.
It is crucial for the Rajapakse government to win support for the hardline policy it has followed after formally withdrawing from the 2002 ceasefire last month. Since then, Mr Rajapakse has never made any bones about his intention of not negotiating with the rebels any more. Not that the ceasefire existed but in name only — even otherwise, as the military offensive had already seized all the main LTTE strongholds in the east and had begun operations against its northern positions. This is perhaps a good time for New Delhi to facilitate the full implementation of the 1987 Accord in line with the APRC proposals.