COLOMBO, Jan. 22,Reuter: The Sri Lankan Parliament passed a controversial law on Friday to enable minority Tamils to elect a council to run their own affairs.

The bill details election procedures for provincial councils and was passed by 101 to seven votes in a legislative dominated by President Junius Jayewardene’s ruling United National Party (UNP).

During an acrimonious debate, the Opposition charged the government was in a hurry to pass the bill into law to “pacify the Indians”.

The Indian High Commission (Embassy) said in a statement that High Commissioner (Ambassador) Jyotindra Dixit met Jaye‘wardene on Thursday and Friday to discuss the President’s forthcoming visit to India.

Jayewardene will be the Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations next Tuesday.

Jayewardene told Dixit “Sri Lanka would have completed the legislative process aimed at devolution of power” once the provincial councils election law is passed by Parliament, the Commission said!

Jayewardene also said the new law would also meet his government’s obligations envisaged in the Indian Sri Lankan agreement signed last year, it said.

The accord, aimed at ending four years of Tamil separatist revolt, grants limited autonomy to all the island’s nine provinces including the north and east where most Tamils live.

The autonomous power would be devolved to the provincial councils which are yet to be set up.

Jayewardene told Dixit that the northern and eastern provinces will be merged as one Tamil administrative unit when the council elections are held.

He said the merged unit would have one elected provincial council and as stipulated in the accord, the eastern province would be asked in a referendum whether it wants the merger to continue.

Opposition Member of Parliament Anil Moonesinghe said provincial elections should not be held until after about 300,000 refugees have been resettled in the north and east.

He said the refugees have refused to return until Indian troops leave. Up to 37,200 Indian soldiers have been posted in the north and east to implement the accord.

Article extracted from this publication >> January 29, 1988