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Lanka Tamils drop separatist demand

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 14.03.10

Colombo, March 13 (AP): Sri Lanka’s main ethnic Tamil party today dropped its demand for an independent state and said it is ready to accept regional self-rule, following the defeat of separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in a 25-year civil war.

The Tamil National Alliance, which backed the rebels, said in its platform for April 8 parliamentary elections that it would accept a “federal structure” in the north and east provinces with power over land, finance, and law and order. The platform was released yesterday.

Since its inception in 2001, the alliance has acted as a proxy for the Tamil Tigers until their military defeat by government forces last year. Between 80,000 and 100,000 people were killed in the fighting.

Tamils have long complained of discrimination at the hands of the island’s majority Sinhalese, but Sri Lankan authorities have rejected any self-rule for them, saying it would be a prelude to secession. The alliance has 22 members in the outgoing 225-seat parliament.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa called the April parliamentary vote after winning re-election in January — in a presidential vote called two years ahead of schedule — in an apparent attempt to consolidate his political dominance.

The Tamil alliance, which supported Fonseka in the presidential election but plans to contest the parliamentary vote on an independent platform, also demanded resettlement, housing and livelihood programmes for the nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians displaced in the last stages of the civil war, about 100,000 of whom are still in refugee camps.

Some of the displaced civilians live with relatives and friends while others have been sent back to their villages without proper shelter or means to make a living.