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30 years since Tamil organisations unanimously agreed on Thimphu principles

Delegations meet at the first phase of the Thimphu peace talks. Tamil delegation seated on the left and the Sri lankan delegation seated on the right. Photograph: Sahajeevana Centre

30 years ago today, a coalition of Tamil organisations representing the Tamil people in Sri Lanka unanimously agreed a set of principles concerning a political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

The declaration came at the conclusion of the first phase of peace talks with the Sri Lankan government in Bhutan’s capital of Thimphu.

In a joint declaration released on the 13th July 1985, a Tamil delegation consisting of representatives from the Eelam People’s Revolutionay Liberation Front (EPRLF), Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Srudents (EROS), Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) and Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), said,

It is our considered view that any meaningful solution to the Tamil national question must be based on the following four cardinal principles:

- recognition of the Tamils of Ceylon as a nation

- recognition of the existence of an identified homeland for the Tamils in Ceylon

- recognition of the right of self determination of the Tamil nation

- recognition of the right to citizenship and the fundamental rights of all Tamils in Ceylon

Different countries have fashioned different systems of governments to ensure these principles. We have demanded and struggled for an independent Tamil state as the answer to this problem arising out of the denial of these basic rights of our people. The proposals put forward by the Sri Lankan government delegation as their solution to this problem is totally unacceptable. Therefore we have rejected them as stated by us in our statement of the 12th of July 1985. However, in view of our earnest desire for peace, we are prepared to give consideration to any set of proposals, in keeping with the above mentioned principles, that the Sri Lankan Government may place before us.

This declaration which built on the Vaddukoddai resolution from the previous decade, often cited as the Thimphu principles, became one of the few times that all representative organisations of the Tamil people on the island of Sri Lanka formerly agreed a set of overarching principles that defined Tamil political aspirations.

After rejecting the initial declaration of Tamil aspirations on the basis of “constitutional violation”, the Sri Lankan delegation submitted a proposal in the second phase of the talks.

The Sri Lankan delegation proposal was rejected by Tamil organisations on the concluding day of the second phase of talks.

On the 17th of August 1985, a joint response by the Tamil delegation rejected the proposals as failing to “satisfy the legitimate political aspirations of the Tamil people.”

Extracts from the final statement made by the Tamil delegation at the talks are reproduced below.

“We, the Tamil delegation, consisting of six organisations, unanimously rejected these proposals because it was our considered view that any meaningful solution to the Tamil national question must be based on the four cardinal principles enunciated by us.

More than 50 years have passed since 1928 and we have moved from Provincial Councils to Regional Councils and from Regional Councils to District Councils and now from District Councils back to District/Provincial Councils. We have had the 'early consideration' of Mrs. Srimavo Bandaranaike and the 'earnest consideration' of the late Dudley Senanayake. There has been no shortage of Committees and Commissions, of reports and recommendations but that which was lacking was the political will to recognise the existence of the Tamil nation. And simultaneous with this process of broken pacts and dishonoured agreements, the Tamil people were subjected to an ever widening and deepening national oppression aimed at undermining the integrity of the Tamil nation.

The four basic principles that we have set out at the Thimphu talks as the necessary framework for any rational dialogue with the Sri Lankan Government are not some mere theoretical constructs. They represent the hard existential reality of the struggle of the Tamil people for their fundamental and basic rights. It is a struggle which initially manifested itself in the demand for a federal constitution in the 1950s and later in the face of a continuing and increasing oppression and discrimination, found logical expression in the demand for the independent Tamil state of Eelam or Tamil Eelam. It is a struggle in which thousands of Tamils have died and many thousands more have lost their properties and their means of livelihood - they have died and they have suffered so that their brothers and sisters may live in equality and in freedom.”

A political commentator at the time David Selbourne, writing on the collapse of the Thimphu talks, said,

It is evident that one of the most difficult points for commentators to grasp - and large numbers of Tamils also - is that the Sinhalese, as I have maintained since I first began to write on Sri Lanka, have no intention whatever of reaching a 'negotiated' settlement with the Tamils. The Sinhalese politicians who presently misgovern what used to be Sri Lanka, do not intend, cannot embark upon, and will not concede, any real measure of devolution to the Tamils.

The current leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Mr R Sampanthan represented the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), alongside the political advisor to the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Mr Anton Balasingham and several other Tamil figureheads at the time.

In a tribute to the assassinated leader of the TULF, Mr A Amirthalingam, Mr Sampanthan, in 2002 said,

“It was primarily he who expounded the policies that Thanthai Chelva enunciated for the benefit of the Tamil speaking people in the North East. Once the Tamil people realised that the only manner in which they could avoid being assimilated and annihilated and preserve their distinct identity, was by bringing about the restructuring of the powers of governance in Sri Lanka so as to ensure very substantial self-rule in the North East and by preserving the territorial and cultural integrity of the North East, which was their traditional and historical habitation and which were at the core of the policies enunciated by Thanthai Chelva, the Tamil people very substantially reposed their faith in Thanthai Chelva.”

See more at Tamilnation.org.


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