For the first-ever time since the civil war ended, a delegation of Sri Lankan ministers met with the UK Tamil diaspora in a public forum and responded to their concerns in London last week. Deputy Foreign Minister Dr Harsha de Silva and Mrs Rosie Senanayake, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister’s Office met with a wide gathering of Tamils at a meeting organized by the Non Resident Tamils of Sri Lanka (NRTSL) at Sangam Hall, Burnt Oak, Edgware, Middlesex.
The Tamil community was overwhelmed with their sincere approach, sources indicated.
The meeting was jointly chaired by V. Sivalingam and R. Jayadevan of the NRTSL. Sivalingam outlined the role of the organization, while K. Thambiah, another member of the NRTSL outlined the work done by the outfit.
He referred to the ongoing public events, including the well-attended meeting in London a month ago of Dr Jayampathy Wickramaratne who chairs the committee appointed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to provide technical support to the Constitution-making process.
Thambiah outlined the NRTSL proposal submitted to the Public Representation Committee (PRC) for consideration. NRTSL members also met with the delegation of ministers visiting London, prior to this public forum and had lengthy discussions about the concerns of the Non Resident Tamil community.
Dr. Harsha de Silva, in his speech, painstakingly went through a chronological account of the progress of the Ranil Wickremasinghe government over the past six months leading to this meeting.
He said that there was much that had been accomplished to bring credence to the government that introduced legislation to back this work. Highlighting the very program of the NRTSL, he said that the government has responded to the dual citizenship demand and long list of applications are being dealt at the moment.
He further said: “Restrictions were lifted on obtaining new passports for non-resident Sri Lankans two weeks ago’. In that, he said bona fides of those applicants who left the country under compelling circumstances will be dealt with much lesser burden of proof.
He said about the extent of the consultation process undertaken by the government to enable everyone’s opinions being heard; release of lands occupied by the army belonging to 2,200 families; work on witness protection and taking the unprecedented step to sing the national anthem in Tamil as well on the Independence Day since 1949, which has created the emotional feelings and is a giant step in the right direction in the creation of a new era.
Mrs Rosie Senanayake eloquently raised gender issues facing Sri Lanka and outlined many areas of concerns for women and children in the country.
She said that due to the war, the number of widows is over 89,000. There are more female headed households now who require attention and support. The first thing the prime minister did was go to Jaffna to meet with the relevant ministers and engage in discussions, primarily on war widows.
A centre was set up for war widows in Kilinochchi so that they could seek help. In terms of children, they have three main requirements: nutrition, security and education.
Mrs. Senanayake apologised to the Tami community for the suffering they had to undergo following the 1983 racial riots in Sri Lanka. She said that although she understood the depth of the feeling of innocent Tamils caught up in the war, she was able to make a public apology on their behalf for the atrocities of the 26 year long war, though she was not a party to it.
Dr .Harsha de Silva commended Mrs Rosie Senanayake for her fortitude in her approach and stressed that Sri Lanka has turned a corner in reproach and reconciliation.