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US will not impose any political model on SL: Envoy

US says Lanka is free to choose any political structure in its bid to find a solution to the ethnic issue, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Feb 08, 2006 11:26 IST
PK Balachandran
PK Balachandran

The United States has said that Sri Lanka is free to choose any political structure in its bid to find a solution to the ethnic problem, and that Washington will not impose any model, including federalism.

"Federalism is one model for a non-violent solution, but the United States has no desire to tell Sri Lanka how to run its country or what kind of model to adopt," said Jeffery Lunstead, US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, here on Monday.

He was speaking at an USAID sponsored symposium on federalism meant to spread information and awareness about the concept of federalism.

Controversy over federalism

Federalism has been a long-standing demand of the minority Tamils living mostly in the North and East of the country.

But the majority Sinhalas, living in the rest of the island, think that federalism is nothing but a stepping stone to the partition of the country.

Sri Lanka is a unitary state, and the majority Sinhalas would like it to remain so, despite attempts by some leaders to change the constitution to a federal one.

In August 2000, President Chandrika Kumaratunga tried to present a federal Constitution to the parliament, but failed to do so because of all round opposition.

In December 2002, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe agreed to find a federal solution.

But the talks with the separatist LTTE broke down in April 2003 before the issue could be taken up.

In October-November 2003, the LTTE proposed an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) for the North Eastern Province.

But this was rejected by the Sinhala South for being confederalist rather than federalist.

The then government, led by Wickremesinghe, was not averse to discussing the ISGA, but the government fell in April 2004 before any moves could be made in the matter.

The current President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is opposed to federalism, but is offering "maximum devolution of power within a unitary state."

The Tamils, especially the rebel LTTE, reject this formulation outright.

International community pushes for federalism

Key members of the international community, however, have been nudging the Sri Lankan government to consider some kind of devolution of power to the Tamil areas, and would like it to look at the various models available in the world.

Earlier, the Norwegian peace brokers had enabled Sri Lankan and LTTE delegations to visit several countries in Europe to study federal models and various types of governance.

India had organised a presentation on its federalist structure when President Rajapaksa visited New Delhi last.

India also offered Sri Lanka, academic and other kinds of expertise on federalism.

The USAID-organised symposium in Colombo on Monday was basically meant to disseminate information of federalism.

"Information and communication are critical to advancing the peace process in Sri Lanka," Ambassador Lunstead said.

According to a US Embassy release, the symposium was organised in response to the widely held view that a dearth of information existed at all levels about the process of federalism and its implications for Sri Lanka.

First Published: Feb 08, 2006 11:26 IST