Sampanthan, the leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has written to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa expressing his concerns over the establishment of a Presidential Task Force for Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province.
The task force was established through Gazette 2178/17 of 2 June 2020 on the direction of the President to protect archaeological sites in the Eastern province.
Sampanthan in the letter pointed out how the Eastern Province has been a multi-ethnic province with a Tamil speaking majority has always been predominantly Tamil speaking but how the task force in its composition is Pan Sinhala.
According to Sampanthan, its composition indicates it was meant to serve the interests of the Sinhalese and Buddhism.
He also questioned why other provinces have been left out and why other communities, as well as other religions, have been left out. “t would be pertinent to raise the question, why other provinces have been left out, why other communities and other religions have been left out.” he noted.
Detailing the history of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, Sampanthan said it is well known that since Independence in 1947 there had been strenuous efforts to convert Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Ampara and the Eastern Province into majority Sinhala speaking areas.
“Amongst the tasks entrusted to the Task Force is “To identify the extent of land that should be allocated for such archaeological sites and take necessary measures to allocate them properly and legally. This task raises several issues. Laws prevail in the country pertaining to the allocation of State land. State land and its allocation has been the most contentious issue in the country, since the achievement of Independence.” he said.
“What is sought to be achieved by the above task being entrusted to the Task Force is to consolidate all that has happened thus far, and take further action to settle more Sinhalese at such sites in such identified extents of Land in the guise of protecting, preserving and promoting Buddhism, and thereby convert the Eastern Province and as much as possible of the Northern Province into majority Sinhalese areas also severing the linguistic continuity between the Northern and Eastern Provinces. This would be a travesty of justice with dangerous and harmful consequences and should be avoided” he added.
The TNA leader also noted that no one objects to the protection, preservation and promotion of Buddhism. If anyone is acting in violation of the law, relating to any Buddhist site the severest action should be taken, in regard to such conduct.
The 11-member Presidential Task Force is led by Secretary to the Ministry of Defence Major General (Retired) Kamal Gunaratna while neither the Tamil nor Muslim community are represented in it even though the two communities collectively make up over 70 per cent of the population of the district.