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JVP challenges merger of NE provinces

The SL party is opposed to the 1988 merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Jul 18, 2006 19:53 IST

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) on Friday filed three Fundamental Rights petitions in the Sri Lankan Supreme Court, challenging the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces to form a single Tamil-speaking North-Eastern Province in 1988.

Petitioners Vasantha Piyatissa, JVP MP from Amparai district; Jayantha Wijesekara, MP from Trincomalee district; and ASM Buhari, a government servant from Sammanthurai, said that their fundamental rights had been denied by the merger.

The North and East were merged following the India-Sri Lanka Accord of July 1987 to meet the Tamil minority's demand for a "Tamil Homeland".

Since the merger was bitterly opposed by the Sinhalas and the Muslims of the East and the rest of the country, it was stipulated that there would be a referendum in the Eastern part, after a given period, to ascertain if the people of the East wanted the merger to continue.

But at the same time, there was an informal understanding between the Sri Lankan government, the Indian government and the Tamil leaders, that the referendum would not be held.

Indeed, the Sri Lankan government would routinely extend the merger without a referendum.

But opposition to the merger continued on various grounds.

Firstly, it was argued that it would reduce the political clout of the Sinhalas and Muslims of the East and put them under the tutelage of the militant Tamil majority.

Secondly, it was said that there was no case for a merger because the East had never been part of the North in history, but had always been part of the Sinhala Kandyan kingdom.

And thirdly, even the Eastern Tamils considered themselves distinct from the Northern "Jaffna" Tamils.

However, despite the opposition, frequently expressed in the media and on public platforms, the matter was never taken court in all these years.

But the scenario has changed now.

Why petition now?

The Mahinda Rajapaksa government is seriously thinking of amending the constitution to devolve power to the Tamil-speaking North East, in view of mounting pressure from India and the international community.

This has triggered a fear among the Sinhalas and the Muslims throughout the island, that the North and the East may be permanently merged.

This is the reason why the JVP has acted now.

Though it is an ally of the Rajapaksa government, the JVP is vehemently opposed to the merger because it is basically a Sinhala nationalist party.

Interestingly, among the counsels who appeared for the JVP on Thursday, were two members of the Experts' Panel which President Rajapaksa had appointed to serve the All Party Committee charged with the responsibility to draft a new devolution package for the North East.

They were, HL de Silva, the chairman of the Experts panel, and Gomin Dayasiri.

The issue of a united Tamil province, comprising the North and the East, is a very important one for Tamils of all hues, not just the LTTE.

A Tamil observer said that justice would not be done to them in the committees appointed by the President if experts like HL de Silva and Gomin Dayasiri were appearing for the JVP in the Supreme Court to argue against the merger.