Opp. expresses serious concern
No Sinhala reps. on review committees for land and related issues in East

by Shamindra Ferdinando
The Opposition expressed serious concern over a disputed decision to exclude Sinhala representatives from three committees to be appointed to review land and all other related issues in the Ampara, Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts on a priority basis.

The government and the LTTE agreed on the formation of committees at the fifth session of peace talks at the Norwegian Embassy in Berlin, two weeks ago. The committees will consist of six representatives of the Muslim population and six representatives of the LTTE.

Muslim representatives were expected to be picked up from the SLMC. But political opponents of SLMC leader and peace negotiator Rauff Hakeem were of the opinion that selection of Muslim representatives should not be the sole prerogative of Hakeem. "His participation in the talks too had been disputed," an opponent said.

The work of the committees is to begin immediately. The Norwegian Embassy said similar committees would be appointed to address such issues relating to other communities as and when required.

Findings of these committees were expected to be submitted to the sixth session of peace talks scheduled to take place during 18 - 21 March in Japan.

Piyasena Dissanayake, general secretary of the National Joint Committee said the government had overlooked the Sinhalese. He accused parliamentarians, particularly those representing the eastern districts of failing at least to protest. He ridiculed the decision to leave out the Sinhalese on the pretext that similar committees would be appointed to address such issues relating to other communities as and when required.

"The Sinhalese have been neglected," Ven. Elle Gunawansa said, strongly criticising the government for excluding the Sinhala representation. "They have been ignored", he said, vowing to press the government on the need to safeguard the interests of all people.

Both were of the view that the Tigers would use committees to further strengthen their position in the east. Over the past two decades the Tigers seized control of large areas after forcing civilians, sometimes Tamils considered supporters of rival political groups to vacate those areas.