President conveys decision to Indian officials, collision course feared
By Our Diplomatic Editor
President Mahinda Rajapaksa told a high-powered Indian delegation yesterday his government was not able to concede land and police powers to provincial councils in accordance with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
The move, the Sunday Times learns, follows strong opposition from constituent partners of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). On Friday, President Rajapaksa drove to the parliamentary complex in Sri Jayawardhanapura-Kotte for a meeting with the leaders of political parties that constitute the UPFA. They are said to have expressed strong objections.
One of the primary purposes of the visit to Colombo by a three-member Indian delegation was to urge the government to fully enforce the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The fact that India urged that such a step be taken by the government was reported exclusively in the Sunday Times of May 15.
The Indian delegation comprised National Security Advisor Shiv Shanker Menon, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar. India’s High Commissioner Ashok Kanth was also associated with yesterday’s talks.
The government’s tough stance in not giving land and police powers to provincial councils is expected to pitch Colombo and New Delhi on a collision course diplomatically. This is particularly in the light of talks in the Indian capital between Indian External Affairs Minister S.M.Krishna and his Sri Lankan counterpart G.L. Peiris when he visited India.
Dr. Peiris had agreed that a “devolution package, building upon the 13th Amendment, would contribute towards creating the necessary conditions for such reconciliation”. The move, Indian officials argue, was the latest commitment given by a Sri Lanka Minister and was thus incorporated in an official joint statement.
However, President Rajapaksa is learnt to have told the Indian delegation that his government would concede many other subjects that are incorporated in the Concurrent List that accompanies the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. He has also told the Indian delegation that his government will withdraw Emergency Regulations with regard to terrorist activities in the North and East since there was no more war in these two regions.
The issue of both Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen poaching in each other’s waters also figured extensively during yesterday’s talks.
With regard to actions against fishermen who poached within Sri Lanka’s territorial waters, the government side explained that they were enforcing the law without the use of any undue force on Indian fishermen.
The Indian side was to point out that poaching by Sri Lankan fishermen in Indian waters did not cover only their southern seas. They claimed there were instances where Sri Lankan fishermen were found poaching in the waters off the states of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.
Tensions in the high seas between both sides have eased in the past weeks due to the spawning season. However, this season ended last week and fishermen were due to resume fishing activity.
Meanwhile the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is expected to issue a statement saying it is not happy with the progress made in the dialogue with the Government on how to address grievances of the Tamil people.
Mr. Menon told Colombo-based Indian journalists yesterday that India had conveyed to Sri Lanka that it was left to Sri Lanka’s government to change the 13th Amendment to bring in a suitable political resolution that would enable all communities in the country to live together.
“If they think, they want to do better than the 13th Amendment as many of them do including the government (which) also speaks of 13th Amendment-plus …they want to do different…whatever…that’s for them but they all must feel comfortable,’’ Mr. Menon said.He said the goal was a political arrangement under which all communities in Sri Lanka would be comfortable. “We naturally feel (that) the quicker they themselves come to a political arrangement within which all communities are comfortable, works for all of them, the better. We will do whatever we can to help,’’ he said.
Mr. Menon said that the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 had provided an enabling environment for the Amendment. “It was their amendment, not our amendment by the way,” he said.