Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Tuesday formed a multi-party political panel and broad-based the existing experts' panel, in an effort to draft a fully democratic and consensus-based devolution package to solve the festering ethnic problem in the country.
But the political panel, comprising representatives of various political parties, did not include the main opposition party, the United National Party (UNP) and the main Tamil party, the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA).
Both UNP and TNA had said that they would not support the President's efforts because, in their eyes, these were nothing but an "eye wash".
The experts' panel, which previously had only one Tamil, has been expanded to include three others, in response to complaints that the aggrieved community was very poorly represented.
Political observers say that Rajapaksa's steps in this direction in double quick time, follows pressure from the international community, particularly India and the US.
In a clear message to the LTTE that it could not expect undemocratic and gargantuan powers in areas it controlled, Rajapaksa told the members of the two panels to ensure democracy and human rights, which he said could not be sacrificed at the alter of expediency.
"In the settlement of the conflict, we cannot for short term expediency sacrifice our cherished democratic values and our commitment to the rule of law," he said.
"Nor can we ignore the human rights standards sweeping through every corner of the globe."
"There is justifiable cause for our insistence on these issues arising from the wanton killings of Tamil political and other Tamil leaders whose only crime was that they held views contrary to the LTTE," he said.
"We will insist on democratic values, political pluralism and the tolerance of dissent being established within the shortest possible time throughout the country," he declared.
Devolution should address the issues of identity, regional minorities and the disproportionate concentration of resources and decision-making powers, he suggested.
He made it clear that there could be no division of Sri Lanka in the process, and added that this line was endorsed by India and other members of the international community.
The President said that he believed in a multi-party and inclusive approach to the task of drafting the new devolution package.
He was seeking a 'homegrown' Constitution, which would look at the models existing in other countries, including those in the region.
Rajapaksa announced that his government was allocating $ 1.25 billion for the development of the war-ravaged and Tamil-speaking North East and said that he wanted the private sector and international agencies to participate in this developmental work.
He then appealed to the LTTE to respond to his "rightful expectations" in regard to having a system, which would accord with those existing in civilised and developed societies across the world.
Reasons for boycott
The main opposition party, the UNP, had refused to join the committee on two grounds:
Firstly the Rajapaksa government had not said whether it supported the 2002 Oslo Declaration, which had committed Sri Lanka and the LTTE to try and find a "federal" solution.
Secondly, the government had been actively promoting defections from the UNP with a view to destroying the party.
The TNA did not attend because of its pro- LTTE leanings.
The TNA and the LTTE do not consider Rajapaksa to be sincere, based on past experience. They also want other mundane and practical issues to be tackled first.
Composition of panels
The political panel includes representatives from the Muslim-dominated National Unity Alliance (NUA); the Ceylon Workers' Congress (CWC) and the Up Country Peoples' Front (UPF), and Western Peoples' Front (WPF) all three representing Indian Origin Tamils; the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) all representing Sinhala nationalism; the Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CPSL); the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC); the All Ceylon Muslim League (ACML); the Eelam Peoples' Democratic Party (EPDP) representing the North-Eastern Tamils; and the National Congress (NC).
The experts' panel, which previously had only one Tamil, now includes four. The new appointees are Dr Nirmala Chandrahasan, Dr K Vigneswaran, and N Selvakumaran.