COLOMBO: Given its past experience of facing a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) by the Chief Minister of the Tamil-dominated North Eastern Province in 1990, Sri Lanka on Saturday categorically disapproved of the UDI by Catalonia from Spain.

In a strong statement in support of the unity and territorial integrity of Spain, the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry said: “The Government of Sri Lanka unequivocally supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Kingdom of Spain, and considers Catalonia as an integral part of Spain.”

“The Government of Sri Lanka urges the pursuit of dialogue for a united Spain in accordance with the rule of law, and within the Spanish constitutional framework,” the statement issued on Saturday said.

“Sri Lanka and Spain enjoy an enduring friendship, and Sri Lanka considers Spain as an important member in Sri Lanka’s partnership with the European Union,” the statement added.

UDI of 1990

Sri Lanka’s opposition is partly because, till very recently, it had faced an armed secessionist movement led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The threat ceased only when the LTTE was comprehensively defeated on the battlefield in May 2009.

Earlier, in 1990, the Chief Minister of the Tamil-majority North Eastern Province, Annamalai Varadarajaperumal, actually issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) after his Tamil National Army (TNA) was defeated by the LTTE supported by the Sri Lankan Army. After declaring UDI he fled to India.

Even now, given the Tamils‘ demand for a federal constitution for Sri Lanka, the fear of secession continues to bug the country’s Sinhalese majority.

Almost all Sinhalese-dominated political parties and Sinhala-Buddhist interest groups in Sri Lanka, oppose federalism and even devolution of power to a Tamil-dominated province (beyond what is already there) due to the fear of secession.

Sri Lanka is in the process of drafting a new constitution but the process is held up because of the heated public debate on the Nature of the State – whether it should be a Unitary State or a Federal State.

Tamils like the Chief Minister of the Northern Province C.V.Wigneswaran want an explicitly and unequivocally federal constitution. But the Tamil National Alliance, the single largest moderate Tamil party, wants more devolution of power and is not very much bothered about the nomenclature.

The Sinhalese parties (except perhaps the ruling United National Party) however, are resolutely opposed to federalism or even more devolution than there is under the 13 th.Amendment of the present constitution.

Federalism and devolution of power from the Centre to the periphery is viewed as a prelude to secession.

The threat of secession looms large in the minds of the majority Sinhalese as it is believed to have the tacit support of the Western democracies and also India.

The Sinhalese political parties believe that the 60 million Tamils of Tamil Nadu in India will put pressure on New Delhi to support a Tamil secessionist movement in Sri Lanka as they did in the early and mid- 1980s which made India prop up Tamil separatist militants, including the LTTE.

It is feared that if Catalonia is allowed to secede from Spain, it would be a shot in the arm for those sections of the Tamils who are still hankering for an independent “Tamil Eelam” in the island of Sri Lanka.

(Catalonian parliament votes for independence from Spain after debate)