Citing the “lack of any action” by the government on Tamils’ urgent demands, Sri Lanka’s Tamil National Alliance (TNA) said it would “rethink” its decision to engage in talks with President Ranil Wickremesinghe, unless his government reports “actual progress” at the next scheduled discussion on January 10.   

“We have been highlighting three specific areas for immediate action – the release of political prisoners, answers to families of [forcibly] disappeared persons, and the persisting land grabs in the north and east. Despite making promises, the government is yet to take any action,” TNA spokesman and Jaffna legislator M.A. Sumanthiran told media on Thursday, following the third meeting between the Alliance and the President.

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While the contours of a political solution are to be discussed in the next meeting on January 10, the TNA said it would rethink its decision to engage beyond that, if there is still no progress in the government’s response to the three critical issues.

Thursday’s meeting follows an all-party discussion held on December 13, and another round of talks between the TNA and the President on December 22, after Wickremesinghe pledged in parliament to solve  the country’s long-pending national question before February 4, 2023, when Sri Lanka will mark its 75th anniversary of Independence.

“We have consistently sought meaningful devolution, and firmly believe it is possible only within a federal arrangement…the President not only expressed confidence that we can arrive at such a solution but has also committed to a timeline for this exercise,” Sumanthiran told Parliament earlier on Thursday.

As the largest grouping representing Tamils in the north and east — it currently has 10 MPs in the 225-member legislature — the TNA has been involved in negotiations with many leaders for decades, but a political solution remains elusive. While past disappointments made the TNA “sceptical” of talks with the government, the Alliance decided to participate in earnest, the Tamil MP said, to avoid blame that they did not engage when an offer was made. On the other hand, the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF), which has two MPs, has taken a position that there is no point engaging with the President, unless he explicitly agrees to a federal solution.

India has consistently highlighted the need for “meaningful power devolution” in Sri Lanka. Intervening in the debate on Sri Lanka’s rights record at the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva in October 2022, India observed that Sri Lanka’s progress on that front was “inadequate”.

Meanwhile, the North East Coordinating Committee, a civil society group, on Thursday staged demonstrations across the two provinces urging all political parties to come together and demand a federal model of power-sharing. Civic organisations have also been seeking the release of Tamils held under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism (PTA) Act for decades. The Solidarity Movement for North East People’s Struggle in a statement asked the government to release 33 long-term PTA detainees as a “first step” towards reconciliation.