Sri Lanka's Supreme Court here Monday has ruled that the country's Northern and Eastern provinces with a dominant Tamil minority presence should remain separate administrative provinces.
Court officials said that a 5-member bench presided over by the Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva ruled that a 1987 order by the then President J. R. Jayewardene to merge the two provinces was illegal.
The landmark ruling came as a result of a petition filed by the main left party, the JVP or the People's Liberation Front.
The chief justice in his over 20-page ruling said the merger of the two provinces by Jayewardene had been made without referring the matter to parliament and obtaining its approval.
The North and Eastern provinces which the minority Tamils claim their traditional homeland came to be merged in July 1987 as a result of the India-Sri Lanka agreement which was then presented as a solution to the country's bloody armed separatist conflict.
Jayewardene had merged the provinces subject to a referendum to be held in the Eastern Province.
But it never came to be held in view of the violent security situation due to the war waged by the LTTE rebels to carve out a separate homeland for the Tamil community in the merged north and east.
The Indo-Lanka agreement and the subsequent legal steps in 1988 had paved way for provincial administrations for each of the island 's nine provinces.
But the Northern and Eastern provinces with its Tamil domination came to be merged as a tool to address the Tamil demand for self autonomy for their regions of traditional habitat.
The extremist Sinhala majority lobby has always been clamoring for the separation of the two provinces.
There was no immediate reaction from the Tamil minority political parties or the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels to the court ruling.
The ruling came just 12 days ahead of the proposed direct talks between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government in Switzerland.