Having failed in its attempts at negotiation, the government embarked on a new strategy for resolving the armed conflict which was at once highly ambitious and deeply controversial. On the one hand, a full-scale military assault was launched with the purpose of eliminating LTTE control of the north and east. On the other, the government sought to devise a devolution package behind which all constitutional political parties could unite. Seeking to engineer peace while continuing hostilities with a powerful and determined adversary was a novel and high-risk strategy. The PA government pressed ahead, however, and published the first of three versions of its devolution proposals on 3 August 1995.
Seeking to redefine 'the constitutional foundation of a plural society within a united and sovereign ... Sri Lanka', the proposals set out a basic framework for the structure of devolution, for government finance, for law and order, land, education, the administration of justice and the civil service. They also suggested a specific government commission on devolution and a division of powers based on just two lists of functions; one Regional, one 'Reserved'.
Unprecedented in their recognition of Tamil grievances and aspirations, the 1995 proposals were welcomed by many persons and groups committed to substantial devolution. They were fiercely opposed, however, by sections of the Sinhalese majority community. Considering their parliamentary majority of one, the government was nervous of this opposition. It was not surprising, therefore, that when the proposals were spelled out in greater detail, various changes were included to appease majority opinion. Along with the ongoing war against the LTTE, these changes did much to undermine the promise of the August 1995 proposals.
The PA approach
In her address to the nation on 3 August 1995, President Kumaratunge declared:
‘The aspiration of the entire Sri Lankan populace is that the current national crisis centred around the north and east be brought to a peaceful, just and honourable settlement ... The first task is ... a new approach predicated on unqualified acceptance of the fact that the Tamil people have genuine grievances for which solutions must be found.
‘With this objective in view, the government is seeking to rebuild the constitutional foundation of a plural society within a united and sovereign Republic of Sri Lanka. This republic will be a Union of Regions. This exercise is based on the following principles:
• An effective constitutional framework for devolution of power to regions based on credibility, clarity, and an internally consistent and coherent value system, which is capable of effective implementation and includes structures for the just resolution of centre-region disputes;
• To encourage the regions and communities which inhabit them to become constructive partners of a stable and pluralistic democracy;
• To ensure that all persons may fully and effectively exercise all their human rights and fundamental freedoms without any discrimination and in full equality before the law;
• To give recognition to Sinhala and Tamil as official languages, to accord equality of status to these languages, and to recognise English as a link language;
• To protect the identity of distinct communities and create conditions for the promotion of that identity, including the right to enjoy their own culture, profess and practice their own religion, and nurture and promote their own language, and to transact business with the state in the national language of their choice.’