Lanka President Rajapaksa`s senior envoy departs for India

Last Updated: Thursday, July 4, 2013 - 19:17

Colombo: Sri Lanka on Thursday sent President Mahinda Rajapaksa`s younger brother Basil to Delhi to hold talks with Indian leadership over its controversial plan to tinker with the India-moved thirteenth amendment (13A).
Basil Rajapaksa is the minister of economic development and the key political advisor to his brother. Basil is expected to meet External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and National Security Advisor Shivashankar Menon.

The visit comes ahead of the government plans to dilute powers of the provincial councils - a system enshrined in the Sri Lankan constitution in 1987 as a result of Indian intervention in the country`s ethnic conflict with the minority Tamils.

"We are sending a senior minister of the government as a common courtesy because the provincial councils were established as a result of the Rajiv Gandhi-JR Jayawardene pact," government spokesman and minister Keheliya Rambukwella said.

"What he will do is inform India what we are going to do with the 13th Amendment. As a government, we have decided that it requires certain amendments, or changes to suit the present time. A Constitution is not cast in stone. It can be changed from time to time."

Asked if the government meant reducing police and land powers from provincial councils, the minister said: "Some may say it is an increase of powers while others may argue otherwise. Although the 13th amendment gave police and land powers to provincial councils, these powers were never exercised by them because the power was not given to them.

"Now for the first time we are proposing that we give them some police powers, may be in respect of traffic cases and at magisterial level. Anything above than can be at the national level. In practise we giving provincial councils more police powers. But in theory, one can say they will have less powers."

Rambukwella said Rajapaksa was hoping to explain this to
the Indian government.

Asked if it was just informing India or there could be a dialogue with New Delhi, the Minister said, "Hopefully, there could be a dialogue."

The younger Rajapaksa visit also comes in the backdrop of a visit to New Delhi by Sri Lanka`s the main Tamil party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which opposed the government plans at the behest of its nationalist allies to dilute 13A.

The tinkering of the 13A, a by-product of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of July 1987 to try and resolve the ethnic conflict, is being attempted ahead of the provincial council elections in Tamil-dominated northern areas in September.

TNA has said it will not take part in the proposed Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) proceedings to review the 13A, saying it has been convened to strip provincial council of powers.

A senior TNA legislator, Suresh Premachandran, said his party has decided to skip the PSC proceedings, which is expected to get underway on July 9.

Analysts say Indian pressure has forced Colombo to retain the 13A sans amendments until the conclusion of the northern provincial council elections scheduled for September.

Khurshid in a phone conversation with his Sri Lankan counterpart G L Peiris in May had stressed that Colombo should not unilaterally move against the 13A.


First Published: Thursday, July 4, 2013 - 19:17

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