Talks were held in Singapore this weekend between Tamil and Sri Lankan groups on promoting reconciliation and strengthening democracy in Sri Lanka.
The meeting was organised by the government of Switzerland and the In Transformation Initiative (ITI) and held between April 3 and 5.
"As part of an on-going dialogue process towards promoting reconciliation and strengthening of democracy in Sri Lanka, the Government of Switzerland and the In Transformation Initiative (ITI) from South Africa, invited a group of political, civil society, academic, diaspora and other international stakeholders including an observer from the Government of Australia to a meeting in Singapore from 3 to 5 April 2015," the ITI said in a statement released on Sunday.
The meeting is believed to have included representatives of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), officials from the Sri Lankan government, and Tamil diaspora groups, including the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) and all its key member groups. The GTF's current member organisations are Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC), Australian Tamil Congress (ATC), Norwegian Council of Eelam Tamils (NCET), Swedish Tamil Forum (STF), Malaysian Tamils and the US Tamil Political Action Council (USTPAC).
The ITI statement went on to state:
"This is a continuation of dialogues on strengthening democracy and promoting sustainable peace in Sri Lanka, and is consistent with several other initiatives of the Government of Switzerland and ITI that included various meetings and visits by Sri Lankan government ministers and senior officials, opposition and ruling party members, as well as other stakeholders including diaspora representative groups."
Various issues including the on-going democratisation activities in Sri Lanka, potential initiatives for achieving long lasting peace and reconciliation were discussed. It was agreed to continue this engagement and dialogue to accelerate the process of achieving meaningful reconciliation among all Sri Lankans.
See full statement here.
The South Africa based organisation, ITI, has been involved in facilitating dialogue between the two sides since soon after the end of the armed conflict, and was established by four prominent figures involved in the transition from Apartheid, including the then National Party Government's chief negotiator, Roelf Meyer, ANC figures, Mohammed Bhabha and Ebrahim Ebrahim and Ivor Jenkins.
Speaking to Tamil Guardian in April 2014, regarding a meeting between the South African government's Special Envoy on Sri Lanka, Cyril Ramaphosa and the TNA, Mr Jenkins said that this followed "groundwork that was laid by ITI during the last four years in particular in terms of promoting a process of dialogue towards a political solution for Sri Lanka between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil community."
“[This effort] has now resulted in and overtaken by the up-scaling of South Africa’s possible role in Sri Lanka by the appointment of a special envoy,” he had added at the time.
See our previous feature on South Africa's dialogue initiative here: Enter South Africa? (Apr 2014)
South Africa's involvement in Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict was criticised by Sinhala political parties however, including the JHU, which is a part of the new Sri Lankan government.
Criticising such efforts, JHU General Secretary, and current Minister for Power and Energy, Patali Champika Ranawaka, criticised efforts by South Africa to facilitate dialogue between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), stating the Tamil struggle should not be equated to that against Apartheid.
“We do not welcome this initiative," Mr Ranawaka told a Sri Lankan newspaper last year, calling for "a fuller investigation of all matters".
He was further quotes as saying that organisations like Global Tamil Forum (GTF) and the British Tamil Forum (BTF) "had created the impression that the so-called armed struggle in Sri Lanka by Tamil groups was similar to the one waged by those in the African National Congress".
“We fought against separation. In South Africa, they fought against apartheid,” he said, reportedly adding, 'it is only recently that the South African Government has obtained “our side of the story".
In July last year, the JHU spokesperson, Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe, further added:
“No positive results would be brought from a South African model peace initiative as the issues in Sri Lanka and South Africa are totally different. Besides, South Africa cannot win the confidence of the people in Sri Lanka as that country maintained a close link with the LTTE. Therefore, it concerns only on the grievances of minorities."