An all-party panel tasked to work out a devolution package for Sri Lanka has recommended the setting up of an "interim political council" in the war-affected and Tamil-speaking northern province, a Tamil cabinet minister said on Thursday.
The interim report of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC), which was submitted to President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Wednesday, also recommended the holding of elections to a provincial council to be set up in the eastern province, Minister Douglas Devananda told IANS.
Asked on what basis the northern interim political council would be constituted, he said that it was left to the "discretion" of the president.
Devananda, who heads the Eelam Peoples' Democratic Party (EPDP), said that the rest of the panel's report urged "full implementation" of the 13th constitutional amendment of 1987, which had brought the provincial councils into existence.
"Full implementation of the 13th amendment means that police powers will also be restored to the provinces."
"The president briefed the cabinet about the recommendations on Wednesday evening. The cabinet took no decision on the report," Devananda said.
Earlier, Rajapaksa had told the media that the APRC's report would be examined and a decision taken soon.
Tamil-speaking northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka have not had provincial councils since 1990.
The first-ever provincial council elected in 1988 was dissolved due to the civil war, political pressure from the Tamil Tiger rebels and a lack of political will on the part of successive governments in Colombo.
On Oct 16, 2006, the Sri Lankan Supreme Court ruled that the merger of the northern and eastern provinces as per the India-Sri Lanka Accord and the 13th amendment of 1987 were illegal because the required conditions had not been met.
Cessation of hostilities and the disarming of the Tamil rebel groups were key conditions for the merger. But the merger came about even as there was great violence, the court pointed out.
The Sinhalese nationalist parties, the government of Sri Lanka and the Muslim minority in the east welcomed the "de-merger". But the Tamils in Sri Lanka were disappointed because they had been campaigning for a unified Tamil-speaking northeastern province with substantial political autonomy since the country's independence in 1948.
However, the Tamils had no option but to put up with the de-merger. The moderate Tamil political parties were weak; India, which brought about the merger, had adopted a "hands off" policy in regard to Sri Lanka since 1990 and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which had been waging an armed struggle to secure an independent Tamil state, were driven out of the east and put under pressure in the north in 2007.
The government then took a decision to set up a separate provincial council for the east and hold elections to it.
As regards the north, no decision was taken because most of the areas there were still under LTTE control.
At present, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts are completely under the control of the Tigers. The Tigers also control parts of Mannar and Vavuniya districts. Only Jaffna district is completely under government control, though here too, people are unable to lead normal lives due to daily incidents of violence.