Sri Lanka on Friday briefed India about steps being taken towards political reconciliation with ethnic Tamils, amid a growing unease over the slow pace of reforms to enable devolution of power to the war ravaged north.
National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, who held talks with President Mahinda Rajapaksa as well as the leader of the main Tamil party TNA, R Sampanthan, said after the meetings that while reconciliation was a “Sri Lankan issue”, India was willing to provide all possible assistance in this regard.
Menon said that India had always stood for a “united Sri Lanka” within which all citizens can live in equality, justice, dignity and self-respect, and New Delhi has worked closely with the government here in areas of rehabilitation and resettlement of the war displaced.
“I discussed recent developments, bilateral relations and areas of common concern. I was also briefed about steps being taken by the Government of Sri Lanka on political reconciliation and settlement. While this is a Sri Lankan issue and something that Sri Lanka has to do, we will continue to remain engaged with all concerned and offer any support required in this regard,” he told media in an interaction.
India has been urging the Rajapaksa regime to fully implement the 13th amendment that provides for devolution of power to Tamil-dominated areas, as an urgent measure to achieve reconciliation with the Tamil minority.
Menon, who has earlier acted as the Indian High Commissioner here, arrived last night. He also held talks with Minister of Economic Development, Basil Rajapaksa, and Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, during his whistle stop visit.
“My visit to Sri Lanka today has been in the context of regular consultations and exchange of views between the Government of India and the Government of Sri Lanka,” he said.
Menon also discussed the contentious issue of the treatment of fishermen who inadvertently cross territorial waters.
Menon said the practical arrangements of October 2008 should be adhered to until an alternative mechanism was agreed upon.
“We agreed that fishermen’s associations on both sides, which had met in the past and reached some understandings, needed to meet again to work on developing this further. This could then serve as the basis for finding a solution to this humanitarian issue,” he said.
Sri Lankan officials had yesterday denied speculation that Menon would press for de-escalation of the military presence in the war-ravaged north.
Rajapaksa has been making varying statements on giving effect to the 13th amendment. Indians are apparently unhappy that action had failed to follow his words.
The government here has been deferring the northern provincial polls despite calls from the global community. The government recently announced snap polls for three provinces but claimed that demining operations and slow pace of voter registration in the Northern province was delaying the holding of polls there.
Ahead of Menon’s visit, the media here had reported that he would raise concerns over the anti-Indian stance adopted by some Sri Lankan ministers, demilitarisation of the north and east and follow up action on the UNHRC resolution which India had backed against Sri Lanka.
During Menon’s meetings, the two sides also discussed maritime cooperation and other security related issues.
They also reviewed the progress of Indian-assisted projects in the Northern and Southern Provinces, particularly those relating to the development of railway infrastructure.
In the past two years, India has committed USD 750 million under lines of credit and another USD 350 million under grants-in-aid. There are a number of other new projects under consideration.