Sri Lanka plans referendum to split the east

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 30 September 1997, 12:01 GMT]
The Sri Lankan government's cabinet held a very crucial meeting yesterday (29 September) to map out a strategy for conducting a referendum in the island's eastern province. The proposed exercise came under fire from community leaders in the east who heard about the cabinet's discussions on the matter.

According to the decision reached yesterday, there will be one referendum for the Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts, another in that part of the Ampara district constituted by the Muslim dominated electorates of Pottuvil, Sammanthurai and Kalmunai, and a third referendum for the Sinhala majority electorate of Ampara.

The people of the Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts would be asked at this poll whether they want their region to be merged with the northern province. The Muslims of the Ampara district will have to decide whether they a separate autonomous region for themselves.

The Sinhalese of the Ampara district who dominate the electorate of that region would have to decide whether they want to merge with the adjoining Sinhala dominated Uva province or whether they would wish to remain as part of the northeast.

A source in the TULF expressed satisfaction with this cabinet scheme, saying that it basically reflected his party's position. He argued that the result of the referendum in the Trincomalee and Ampara districts was definitely bound to be in favour of the Tamil position (merger with the north) because Trincomalee's population is 34 percent Tamil and Batticaloa's population is 74 percent Tamil whereas the Sinhalese constitute only 33 percent of Trincomalee's population and less that 3 percent of Batticaloa's.

The Muslims' vote in both districts would largely favour the Tamils because of the SLMC's needs in the Ampara district he pointed out. The SLMC requires the majority of the 33 percent Tamil vote in the Muslim dominated part of the Ampara district to win the referendum for the separate Muslim council said another TULF source.

This source was also of the view that the Sinhalese of the Ampara district would opt to stay on with the eastern province rather than join the Uva region which, according to him, would suit the Tamil position for a unified and contiguous Tamil home land.

However, many Tamil community leaders in the east expressed outrage, saying that the whole thing was a well timed conspiracy to fragment and further weaken the Tamil population in the region.

One of them who did not want to be named, as the cabinet deliberations are yet to be made public, speaking from Trincomalee, said "This is a calculated move to politically and administratively destroy the Tamil population in the region because the majority of those who will be able to vote at this referendum will not be Tamils".

He pointed out that, as it had done in the past, the Sri Lankan army would not permit elections in areas of the east controlled by the LTTE. Today, these areas amount to almost 80 percent of province. More than sixty five percent of the Tamil population of the eastern region currently live in areas administered and militarily controlled by the LTTE.

"Therefore the government and its minions would be in a position to determine the outcome of the main referendum in Trincomalee and Batticaloa by rigging" he said.

At the general and local government elections which were held in the east in 1994, the government introduced a system for clustering polling booths of LTTE dominated areas in Sri Lankan army camps. This resulted in a massive fraud.

Today, with such a large part of the east being under the LTTE control, the system of clustering is certainly bound to give rise to untrammeled rigging. The Sri Lankan government intends to deliver, through this fraudulent exercise, a fatal blow to the political and physical security of the Tamils living in the east.


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