Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe has indicated reduction of army presence in Tamil areas “as time goes on”.
He, however, ruled out any immediate reduction in troops unless there is improvement in the situation. Wickramasinghe did not elaborate on what improvement meant. In an interview to Tamil Thanthi TV, he also conceded that there is lots of land under the state’s control that can be released in different parts of the country.
Asserting that army is in all parts of Sri Lanka, Wickramasinghe said, “I don’t find any reason why the army should go out of any district in Sri Lanka, there are district head quarters in every part of Sri Lanka, and actually their structure is based on the India one.”
Asked about the army civilian ratio in the North being appalling, Wickramasinghe said, “I know that…what we have said is — as far as we are concerned we are not pulling the security forces out of any place unless we see improvements.” However, specifically commenting on the army civilian ratio, he said, “Army civilian ratio will be adjusted as time goes on. No one has said it is going to be that high all the time.”
Wickramasinghe acknowledged that there is lot of land under state’s control that can be given back to the public. “There is lots of land that can be released to the people in different parts of the country. We have started with the thousand acres and now the TNA said there has been an agreement in court over another two thousand acres, I just handed it over to the attorney general,” Wickramasinghe said.
Talking about Northern Province Chief Minister CV Wigneswaran blaming the government on slow pace in reforms, Wickramasinghe said, “lots of Tamils are today criticising him. I am dealing here with the TNA members of parliament, if it is at slow pace they need not come weekly. UN high commissioner wants the lands restored .They say immediately and I have asked him to come, it has to be gradual. First we have to be satisfied with the security situation, secondly we have to decide what happens in the rest of the country, but it was not a question, we never said in the 100 days manifesto which everyone voted for about pulling troops out,” he said. “It was a security decision, we said about restoring lands to the people in all parts of Sri Lanka,” he added.
Wickramasinghe also assured that the government was in the process of implementing the 13th ammendment but said there were concerns over whether the police will become private armies with the chief ministers when autonomy is given.
On the issue of merger of Northern and Eastern provinces, he said if two provinces pass a resolution supporting a merger the government will be willing to hold a referendum to decide the issue.