Page last updated at 16:12 GMT, Saturday, 13 March 2010

Sri Lanka Tamil party drops statehood demand

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Colombo

Rajavarothiam Sampanthan
In recent weeks, the Tamil National Alliance has dropped some of its MPs

The Sri Lankan political party closest to the defeated Tamil Tiger rebel movement has dropped a demand for a separate Tamil homeland.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which is the biggest political grouping representing the ethnic minority, said it instead wanted a "federal" solution.

The party wants the two Tamil-majority provinces to be merged back into one, and significant devolution of powers.

It outlined the stance in a manifesto for April's parliamentary election.

'Shared sovereignty'

Formed nine years ago, the Tamil National Alliance was generally seen as a proxy for the Tamil Tigers.

Since the 1970s, the latter professed to be fighting for what it called Tamil Eelam, an independent state for Tamils on the island of Sri Lanka. The TNA followed their ideological line.

Sri Lanka war zone May 2009
The government's victory over the Tigers ended a bloody civil war

But 10 months after the Tigers' defeat by government forces, the TNA is changing its outlook.

Its election manifesto asks for power-sharing within a "federal structure".

It wants the two Tamil-majority provinces to be merged back into one, and significant devolution of powers on issues like land and taxes. And it mentions self-determination.

But it also speaks of "shared sovereignty among the peoples who inhabit this island".

The TNA is therefore codifying what its politicians have been saying for some time.

Last month its leader, Rajavarothiam Sampanthan, told the BBC he believed most Tamils in Sri Lanka no longer believed in violence or separation, but nevertheless wanted equality.

Another TNA parliamentarian, Suresh Premachandran, told the BBC on Saturday a federal solution was appropriate given the "changed global and regional situation".

Mr Premachandran said he was inviting the government to respond by solving Tamils' problems within a united Sri Lanka.

In recent weeks, the TNA has dropped some of its MPs and some have formed a new grouping to compete with it.

The TNA's new stance is partly a reflection of Realpolitik - espousing separatism is illegal in Sri Lanka.

But it also highlights the contrast between Tamils based here and those living abroad - the vast majority of the diaspora still believe in a separate Tamil homeland.

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