Tamil party drops commitment to independence from Sri Lanka

Monday, March 15, 2010

Percentage of ethnic Tamils in each district of Sri Lanka. Regular numbers are from 2001 census, italic numbers from 1981 census.
Image: Sadalmelik.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the chief political party of the ethnic Tamil group in Sri Lanka, has said in its manifesto for upcoming elections that it would accept a "federal structure" for the country. Since its formation in 2001, the TNA had previously aimed for full independence for Tamil regions. The party also stated it would encourage non-violent civil disobedience in support of Tamil rights.

Sri Lanka's civil war has killed up to 100,000 people, after the Tamil Tiger rebel group began its armed struggle in 1983. The TNA had widely been viewed as a political wing to the Tigers. In 2009 the Sri Lankan government launched a major military assault against Tiger militants in the north of the country, which displaced around 280,000 people and provoked international controversy. However it succeeded in defeating the rebels, and led to the re-election of president Mahinda Rajapaksa this year.

The TNA, a coalition of various Tamil parties, currently holds 22 seats in the Sri Lankan parliament but has been weakened by the defeat of the Tigers. Since its formation in 2001 it has pushed for independence for the Tamil dominated regions of the north and east, but has had to avoid any direct endorsement of separatism, which would be considered illegal.

In the new manifesto, released on Saturday, the party also said that it would begin a civil disobedience movement in the style of Mahatma Gandhi. One section said: "If the Sri Lankan state continues its present style of governance without due regard to the rights of the Tamil-speaking peoples, [we] will launch a peaceful, non-violent campaign of civil disobedience on the Gandhian model."

The parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka are due to occur on 8 April. The government are also hoping to strengthen their position, and achieve the two-thirds majority they need to enact changes to the constitution.