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By Walter Jayawardhana reporting from Los Angeles

The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress would insist that Northern and Eastern provinces should be de-merged from each other to implement any peace process in Sri Lanka, the party’s leader Rauf Hakeem told a Muslim youth conference in Puttalama.      

  Party sources said the Muslim leader told the Sri Lanka Muslim Youth Conference of Wanni held at Puttalama in the North Western Province of Sri Lanka that in whatever peace process the two provinces should be treated and administratively run separately since the Muslims considered the Eastern province their homeland.       

The multi-ethnic Eastern Province, which roughly contains an equally divided population of the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, was temporarily merged with the Tamil dominated Northern Province under the Indo-Lanka Pact by the former President the late Junius Jayewardene, the uncle of the current Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. But he had promised a referendum to be held among the voters of Sri Lanka to decide whether the two provinces should be merged permanently. But so far, the promised referendum has not been held.     

  The Sinhalese of the Eastern Province has publicly clamored that their province should never be merged with the terrorist infested Northern province at any time. Some historians claim the most ancient civilization of the Sinhalese sprang up in the Eastern Province. The Sinhalese kings to save them from the persecution of the Portuguese settled the Muslims of Eastern Province there about 500 years ago.      

  Rauf Hakeem , who addressed the youth conference immediately before he was scheduled to fly to London to meet and discuss what was described as the security problems of the Muslims with the LTTE’s chief negotiator Anton Balasingham said at Puttalama that the confidence in the Muslims in the up coming “peace talks” in Thailand had broken down very badly. He said there were very many problems that had to be sorted out with the LTTE before the Thailand talks started.     

  He charged the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam of hurting the Muslims in the recent Tamil-Muslim riots especially at Muttur and Valaichchenai and also blamed Sri Lanka’s unofficially censored press which is believed to be controlled by his own government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of not having divulged the full extent of the damage suffered by the Muslims at the hands of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Rauf Hakeem is the Minister of Ports in the current UNF government.       

Hakeem was concerned about, the sources said, the Muslims in the Eastern province who represented one third of the population in the province were left in a vulnerable position after the Sri Lankan security forces were forced to leave under a Memorandum of Understanding signed between terrorist leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe exposing the Muslims to extortion and other human rights violations at the hands of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The harassment was so severe, it instigated the United States to warn in March that the LTTE’s harassment of civilians including the Muslims jeopardized the truce between the government and the Tamil terrorists very badly. Various other critics also have accused the Ranil Wickremesinghe administration of turning a blind eye towards the breach of the truce by the Tamil terrorists by such acts fearing any part played by the government could be interpreted as a sabotaging the “peace process”.            

  At the youth conference in Puttalama, speaker after speaker insisted Rauf Hakeem that he should represent the Muslims of Sri Lanka at the Thailand “peace talks” scheduled to start September 16. The Sri Lanka government has already named him as a member of the government negotiating team. They said he should join the “peace talks” not as a member of the government team but as a representative of the Muslims.       

The youth delegates at the conference insisted that Hakeem should take up the extortion of the Muslims by the LTTE as a major topic. They also said that an explanation should be obtained from the LTTE leadership why the Muslims of Jaffna were ordered by the Fascist leadership of the LTTE to get out of their homes within 24 hours and flee the province in 1990. They demanded from Rauf Hakeem that guarantees of human rights of the Muslims in the Northern and Eastern provinces should be sought from the Fascist leadership of the LTTE. They said the Muslims of Eastern province was hurt by the LTTE after the Muslim Congress leader signed an agreement with the LTTE leader recognizing each other as sole representatives of the Tamil and Muslim communities respectively on April 13. (EOM)

(02/09/01 go2lanka.com)