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President Muslim card irks Tigers

Colombo, Nov. 17: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are determined to ensure that President Chandrika Kumaratunga does not use the Muslim card to “disrupt” the peace talks.

Even though, at present, the talks are in limbo, the Tigers have already started to campaign against the Muslim presence at the negotiating table. The Muslims have been demanding that they be included in the talks as they form a large part of the population in the eastern province.

“Sitting as equal partners at the negotiating table is not necessary for the Muslims as long as they are consulted and their opinion is taken,” said R. Sampanthan, secretary general of the moderate Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) which is now a part of the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance.

Echoing the LTTE’s sentiment, the Sampanthan said: “The Sinhalese, especially the President, can use the Muslim delegation as a disruptive force to scuttle whatever the government does not want to give the Tamils.”

However, Sampanthan, who is a member of parliament from Trincomalee admitted that “no solution to the northeast problem can be worked out unless Muslim concerns are addressed and constitutional guarantees are provided to them in the final settlement.”

The Tamil-speaking Muslims constitute nearly 33 per cent of the population in the eastern province.

Before the ethnic conflict began, the Muslims had lived peacefully with the Tamils and shared a common language with them.

It was only after the emergence of the LTTE as a militant outfit, which wanted full control of the northern and eastern provinces, that the Muslims began to bear the brunt of the Tamil Tigers’ ruthlessness.

As some sections of the Muslim community were used by the United National Party president J.R. Jayawardene’s government against the Tamil militants, relations between the Tamils and the Muslims deteriorated.

In the eighties, when Israeli Mossad officers were setting up an intelligence network in Sri Lanka, Muslims were recruited for the job as they spoke the same language as the Tamils.

At that time, the LTTE carried out a number of massacres in both Sinhalese and Muslim villages of the eastern province to ensure that the area would be populated by a Tamil majority

The LTTE plan was to merge the Tamil-strong eastern province with the northern for a consolidated Tamil homeland.

The Muslims are apprehensive of living under the LTTE-dominated northern and eastern provinces. They believe their rights may not be respected.

However, the Muslims, in their bid for more rights, cannot put up a united political front. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) with its twelve members in Parliament are at the moment hopelessly divided. A number of them led by Rauf Hakim have joined the United National Front led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Feril Ashraf, who took over the party reins after her husband died, has pledged her allegiance to Kumaratunga.

However, both Hakim and Ashraf are united in their demand that the fate of the Lanka Muslims has to be decided in the coming talks.

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