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Sri Lankan MPs in India to study devolution

A group of 13 Sri Lankan MPs will study India's devolution process to see if it can help resolve the ethnic conflict in their country.

india Updated: Oct 26, 2006 13:17 IST

A group of 13 Sri Lankan MPs representing as many parties are here to study India's devolution process to see if it can help resolve the long-drawn ethnic conflict in their country.

Led by Minister of Science and Technology Tissa Vitarana, the delegation will interact with Indian officials here as well as in Karnataka and Kerala to learn in detail about center-state relations and the grassroots Panchayati Raj in villages.

"We are here to have a better understanding of the devolution process and how it has worked in the Indian context," said Vitarana, a 72-year-old MP from the leftwing Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and also the delegation head.

The team includes representatives from almost all political parties including President Mahinda Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the Sinhalese-Marxist JVP, the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, the Eelam People's Democratic Party, Ceylon Workers Congress and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress.

The main opposition United National Party and the pro-Tigers Tamil National Alliance are not in the delegation.

Vitarana said the MPs would hold meetings with Panchayati Raj Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar and his officials on Thursday and Friday before traveling to Karnataka and Cochin (Kerala) to study the impact of the devolution process on the ground.

"Our aim is to think of a solution to the ethnic conflict based on devolution and work out the modalities," Vitarana said.

"Once that is done, we will go into the nature of a new constitution for Sri Lanka and finally the negotiation process (with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam).

"Basically, we want to study and learn, and see what is relevant and what is not relevant to Sri Lanka."

A professor of medical microbiology in Colombo's University of Jayawardenapura, Viatarana said the mandate of the delegation, drawn from the All Party Representatives Committee, was to find ways of satisfying the political aspirations of the Tamils and other minorities and also the majority Sinhalese community.

A serious dialogue is on within Sri Lanka on what kind of power sharing will persuade the LTTE to give up its stated goal of an independent Tamil state and settle for autonomy within the island nation.

Vitarana explained that the first meeting of the All Party Representatives Committee in Colombo was a stormy one but eventually MPs representing a wide variety of views had come to respect one another's often contrasting opinions on how to end the conflict that has claimed over 65,000 lives since 1983.

Will the delegation's efforts have any impact on the Tamil Tigers?

"I think the LTTE is increasingly finding it difficult to maintain its struggle for separation," the minister said, voicing confidence that the Tigers would one day have to see reason.

"Eventually when they realise that separation is not realisable, then they will come forward for genuine talks (with the government). I hope that day is not far off.

"So we are trying to find an acceptable solution. If we achieve that, then the international community will be constrained to put maximum pressure on the LTTE to come for serious talks," said Vitarana, who has been with the LSSP since 1953.

The delegation's trip to India will also coincide with the Oct 28-29 talks in Geneva between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, a meeting the international community hopes will at least bring down the present level of killings in the island.

First Published: Oct 26, 2006 12:40 IST