British Premier's historic Jaffna visit raises Tamil hopes

Last updated 00:49 GMT 16 Nov 2013 Cameron meets Uthayan journalists in Jaffna British Prime Minister David Cameron made a historic visit to Jaffna on Friday, during which he met with journalists and staff at the Uthayan newspaper, displaced people at a refugee camp and Tamil political leaders. Mr. Cameron pointedly left the much vaunted Commonwealth summit just after it was officially launched to travel to Jaffna, having arrived in Colombo the previous night from his visit to India. He is the first foreign leader since 1948 to visit Jaffna, once Sri Lanka’s second wealthiest city after Colombo, before decades of armed conflict and discriminatory state policies. Jaffna has been under government control since 1995. The symbolic move boosted Tamil morale in a city gripped by an all pervasive military presence which prevents many from resettling in their army-occupied homes and terrorises political, civil society and media activity. It also infuriated the Sri Lankan government, particularly his planned visit to the Uthayan, press reports said. Mr. Cameron flew to Jaffna by military plane, after the Sri Lankan government cancelled all flights to the north earlier this week, to be confronted by what he later described as "incredibly powerful" images. The first of these came at the outset of his visit, when Mr. Cameron's vehicle and those of accompanying British journalists were mobbed by relatives of people ‘disappeared’ by Sri Lankan security forces in Jaffna, desperate to seek his help in locating the missing. Mr. Cameron had been meet in the library with Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, accompanied by Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R. Sampanthan and TNA parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran. Police struggled to hold back hundreds of people waiting for the Premier to arrive, and as his convoy left the library, they broke through the cordon to thrust pictures of their loved ones against vehicle windows, Britain’s ITV reported . Others pressed photographs and petitions into the hands of the foreign journalists. See below a video of the chaotic scenes taken by The Telegraph journalists from inside their vehicle. Saro Sripavan, mother of three, told The Hindu she has been looking for her husband for seven years now. “He was working as manager in a cooperative society and went missing in 2006. Till date, I have no information about him,” she said, looking at his photograph. “Every time someone important comes to Jaffna, we all assemble and try to highlight our concern, but ultimately I know only I have to look for my father,” said her son Sripavan Daneesh, who works as a sales executive. Speaking to Tamil Guardian later in the evening, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam of the Tamil National Peoples Front (TNPF), reflected on what he had seen at the protest through out the day. "They [relatives of the disappeared] have lost it all and have nothing else left to lose," said Mr. Ponnambalam, "but they still hope, because that is all that they can do and t hat is what drew them out in such numbers, despite the security forces." He explained, "the agony and pain that the parents, children and relatives of the disappeared and those surrendered does not end here. What we saw today was a transcendental agony which forms part of their daily existence." Describing the moment when hundreds of protesters rushed forwards and broke through the police blockade, Mr Ponnambalam said, "even the security forces could not contain their pain." "Despite so many broken promises by the world and its leaders, these people still come for these protests hoping that one day they will be able to hear about their loved ones whether dead or alive." Mr. Cameron was also confronted by a state-sponsored demonstration condemning international pressure over Sri Lanka’s war crimes. (See the BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson’s revealing report here ).

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Tamil vote for self-determination must be respected - TNPF

Speaking at a Jaffna press conference at the Jaffna Press Club on Monday, Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) leader Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam praised the people of the North for demand for self-determination expressed by their votes at the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) elections last month. Listen to press conference in Tamil here: Standing by the TNPF’s decision to boycott the election, Gajendrakumar said that the Tamil people of the North were to be praised for rejecting Sri Lankan rule in the Tamil homeland, and for expressing their enduring desire for the right to self-determination, despite all the obstacles and hardships they have faced in the four years since the end of the armed conflict. " We also view this [election result] as something special. As you well know, our party boycotted this election completely ." " But despite that, we did not ask the Tamil people to boycott the election or to act in a way that we instructed. As you well know we did released a written statement, that only a few media outlets covered. In that way, we left the election to the conscience of the people ." " As far as we are concerned, even today, the [Tamil] people have clearly expressed their aspirations, namely, firstly, they have categorically rejected the Sri Lankan state's conduct and rule within the Tamil homeland . Secondly, with regards to Tamil political aspirations, even today, they have once again, resolutely voted for the right to self-determination, seeking the reaffirmation of our nationhood, and unanimously, for the freedom of a nation ; in a vote that has no historic precedence ." " We bow our heads to their [Tamil people's] act " Gajendrakumar said that his party would work to keep the people actively engaged in politics, outside of election time.

The celebrations continue...

After taking his oath in Jaffna on Friday, P Deniswaran of TELO went to Mannar to celebrate in being appointed a Minister in the Northern Provincial Council.

And so, the NPC begins…

Newly sworn in Chief Minister of the Northern Province CV Wigneswaran and other TNA members who have been appointed to the Northern Provincial Council took their oaths in Jaffna, at the Veerasingham Hall earlier today. (Picture courtesy of Tamil Mirror)

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