EPDP abandons PA for UNF

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 19 December 2001, 00:41 GMT]
The paramilitary Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP), a key Parliamentary ally of the former People's Alliance (PA) government of President Chandrika Kumaratunga is offering to switch sides and support the newly elected United National Front (UNF), press reports said. The Gulf News reported Wednesday that the EPDP, widely accused of violence and intimidation in support of the former administration before and during the December 5 polls is now offering to assist the UNF's ìefforts at forming a government of national government.î Last week The Island newspaper reported that the EPDP was offering its military support to the new government against the Liberation Tigers, arguing that it had always done so with successive Sri Lankan governments.

The EPDP's leader, Douglas Devananda, a hitherto staunch ally of President Kumaratunga conveyed to the UNF leader, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, in a weekend meeting that he ìwould support his efforts to settle the ethnic issue, improve the economy and introduce constitutional reforms,î the Gulf News reported Wednesday.

The EPDP, whose military wing operates alongside the Sri Lanka Army, primarily in the Jaffna peninsula, is opposed to negotiations with the Liberation Tigers. The group is officially armed by the government and is primarily based in the islands off the western Jaffna coast. "We have no hope or faith in the LTTE," Devananda was quoted by the Gulf News as telling the Prime Minister.

Sri Lanka's Tamil political parties - mainly the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which successfully contested the elections in the north and east - have called on previous government to disarm the EPDP accusing it of harassing their members and engaging in violence and intimidation against voters.

UNP Jaffna district MP and Hindu Affairs Minister T. Maheswaran, during his campaign repeatedly vowed that the UNF government would disarm all armed Tamil paramilitary groups including the EPDP within weeks of their victory at the December 5, parliamentary elections. The TNA, comprising four main Tamil parties has also campaigned for the same action.

The issue about disarming EPDP cadres however did not come up at the meeting with Wickremesinghe, the Gulf News reported. Last week The Island newspaper reported that the EPDP was negotiating with the new government to be allowed to maintain its armed wing.

"The EPDP has been militarily active in support of successive governments since 1990," a senior EPDP official told The Island by way of justification, expressing confidence that the parties would be able to iron out whatever differences over existing security arrangements involving his group.

"We have a role to play in the northeast," the official told the Island explaining that their deployment was only in support of the navy in the northern theatre. There are other armed groups, he said adding that those who urge the new government to disarm groups that assist the security forces should realise that they have been forced to carry weapons due to "LTTE terrorism."

The EPDP official told the Island that they moved to the Jaffna islands in 1992 when the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa's government regained the islands following combined security forces operation Valampuri. During the following years, the EPDP considerably increased its power in the peninsula especially in the islands where the navy, too maintains small detachments (in some of the islands) that come under Commander - Northern Naval Area based at Kankesanthurai.

The Island observed that before the PA won the August 1994 parliamentary elections, they repeatedly pledged to disarm the EPDP and other armed Tamil groups but following its sweeping victory, simply forgot about the matter.

 

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