Underlining that the welfare of Tamils in Sri Lanka is of utmost importance, India Thursday urged Sri Lanka to pursue a lasting political settlement that provides for harmonious co-existence of all communities, including minorities, in the island-nation.
Making a suo moto statement in the Lok Sabha on “The Situation in Sri Lanka”, External Affairs Minister S.M.Krishna called for a “just and fair” settlement of the Sri Lankan political problem and immediate priority to the Tamils’ rehabilitation.
“Our primary objective in all that we are doing in Sri Lanka is to ensure the welfare and wellbeing of Sri Lankan Tamils, including internally displaced persons (IDPs), and to assist in the development of northern Sri Lanka,” Krishna said.
Alluding to questions raised about the conduct of the war by the Sri Lankan troops, which has been scrutinised in a report by a panel of experts set up by the UN secretary general and a documentary on Britain’s Channel 4, Krishna said India has taken note of these concerns, but stressed that the focus remained on the welfare of the minority Tamils.
“Presently, our focus should be on the welfare and well being of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Their rehabilitation and rebuilding should be of the highest and most immediate priority,” Krishna said.
“A just and fair settlement of the political problem is of utmost importance,” he said.
“I have, nonetheless, stressed to my Sri Lankan counterpart, the need for an early withdrawal of emergency regulations, investigations into allegations of human rights violations, restoration of normalcy in affected areas and redress of humanitarian concerns of affected families,” he stressed.
Krishna also welcomed the beginning of a structured dialogue between the government and representatives of Tamil parties in pursuit of a political solution and offered India’s support to help in taking forward the process.
The minister’s assurance to parliament came against the backdrop of repeated expressions of concern by various political parties, specially the DMK, about the precarious condition of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
Krishna informed the house that since the end of the war, in which the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was crushed in 2009, around 290,000 internally displaced Tamils have already been resettled.
“Only around 10,000 IDPs remain in the camps,” Krishna said.
Krishna underlined that the welfare, safety and security of Indian fishermen “have always received the highest priority from the government”, and said that India has repeatedly taken the issue of attacks on Indian fishermen with Colombo.
“The government has conveyed to the Sri Lankan government that the use of force could not be justified under any circumstance and that all fishermen should be treated in a humane manner,” he said.
“The Sri Lankan side, while denying that their navy was involved, has promised to seriously investigate these incidents,” he said.
“In 2010, a total of 137 Indian fishermen were apprehended and released by Sri Lanka. Till Aug 3, a total of 164 Indian fishermen were apprehended by Sri Lanka and all were subsequently released,” he said.
“At the same time, in 2010 a total of 352, and in 2011 a total of 131 Sri Lankan fishermen, have been apprehended by our authorities,” said Krishna.
“A total of 104 Sri Lankan fishermen are still in Indian custody whereas all Indian fishermen apprehended on charges of fishing related violations in Sri Lanka have been released,” he added.