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Sri Lanka should address India’s concerns

The island nation should abide by its promise to meet the legitimate aspirations of its Tamil population.
The Sri Lankan President, Mr Mahinda Rajapakse, seems to be having second thoughts on his past assurances.

July 7, 2011/ by G.PARTHASARATHY

When the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Ms J Jayalalithaa, paid her first visit to New Delhi after assuming office, she forcefully articulated her concerns on Sri Lanka. Two issues concerning Sri Lankan Tamils evoke passions in Tamil Nadu.

The first is the firm belief that after the LTTE was eliminated in 2009, Sri Lankan Tamils have been displaced from their homes and denied basic human rights.

The second concern is the attacks on Tamil Nadu fishermen by the Sri Lankan navy on grounds of their encroaching into Sri Lankan territorial waters, beyond the 285 acres, uninhabited, Kachativu Island.


Records of the British India Government since 1876 have showed Kachativu as part of Ceylon. The Raja of Ramnad, in the then Madras Presidency, however, laid claim to the Island in the 1920s. Kachativu was recognised by India as Sri Lankan territory in agreements signed in 1974 and 1976.

The demarcation of the maritime boundary, under which India acknowledged Sri Lankan sovereignty over Kachativu, was based on the internationally recognised principle of the median line and in consonance with Article 15 of the Law of the Seas.

After the LTTE took control of Northern Sri Lanka, fishing in each other’s territorial waters became contentious. The Sri Lankan navy resorted to excessive and indiscriminate use of force. But in 2008, India and Sri Lanka agreed that excluding what Sri Lanka considers as “sensitive areas,” there would be “practical arrangements” to deal with bona fide Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen crossing the international boundary line.

Sri Lanka would be well advised to see that the spirit of this agreement is respected by its navy. The exchange of letters accompanying the 1976 agreement makes it clear that fishermen of either party shall not engage in fishing in the other’s “historic waters, the territorial sea and the exclusive economic zones”.


Inevitably, but sadly, triumphalism, rather than reconciliation, has characterised the reaction of sections of public opinion in Sri Lanka, ever since the bloody ethnic conflict ended in 2009.

There is broad agreement and substantive evidence, which has been endorsed by a UN Panel, set up by the Secretary General, of gross human rights violations by both the Sri Lankan Government and armed forces, on the one hand, and the LTTE, on the other, particularly as the ethnic conflict drew to a close. Both sides were found to have resorted to summary executions and disappearances. The ethnic conflict left over 300,000 Tamils, described as “Internally Displaced Persons” (IDPs), in refugee camps. India has committed Rs 1,000 crore ($ 220 million) for rehabilitating the IDPs, including provision of materials like cement and GI sheets, for rebuilding homes. Large scale medical assistance has also been extended.

A programme to reconstruct 50,000 houses was commenced in 2010 and Tamil farmers assisted with supply of seeds, tractors and agricultural implements. A similar approach has marked India’s commitment to broaden ties across the Island nation. India is Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner, with the Indian private and public sectors widely having a significant presence there. India has extended Lines of Credit of around $ 960 million for improving the tsunami-damaged Colombo-Matara rail link and for rolling stock and wagons for the northern railway line.

In a longer term perspective, India would be well advised to assist the Tamil population in Sri Lanka by setting up educational and vocational training institutes in northern and Eastern Sri Lanka.


The 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution, enacted pursuant to the 1987 Rajiv Gandhi-Jayawardene Accord provided for devolution of powers to Provinces, including to the Tamil dominated northern and the multi-ethnic eastern provinces.

President Rajapakse had averred that he would be prepared to go even beyond this framework to meet Tamil aspirations. The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Mr G. L. Peiris, while visiting India, agreed that “a devolution package, building upon the 13th Amendment, would contribute towards creating conditions for such reconciliation”.

President Rajapakse seems to be having second thoughts on his past assurances. Doubts are now being expressed about abiding by the provisions of the 13th Amendment, on crucial issues like law and order and lands. After having won landslide electoral triumph for ending of the ethnic conflict, President Rajapakse may end up losing the prospect of lasting harmony and amity, if political expediency prevails over statesmanship.

Following reports of human rights violations by Sri Lanka’s armed forces, 17 countries, including France, Germany, Mexico and UK moved a Resolution in the Human Rights Commission in May 2009, which sought to investigate reported human rights violations by the Sri Lankan armed forces. India, together with countries such as Brazil, Russia, China, South Africa and others had this move rejected.

These countries instead backed a Resolution, which was passed by 29 votes for and 12 against, which condemned the LTTE and called on the Sri Lanka Government to proceed with efforts for national reconciliation and resettlement of IDPs. Given the contents of the recent report of the Panel constituted by the UNSG, which alludes to large scale violation of human rights by the Sri Lankan Government, the 2009 Resolution will inevitably be revisited and reviewed internationally.

India has spared no effort to assist and cooperate with Sri Lanka, to eliminate the LTTE and to deal with international pressures mounted on its neighbour in international forums.

Sri Lanka will hopefully realise the importance of abiding by the solemn assurances it has given to India of going beyond the 13{+t}{+h} Amendment, to meet the legitimate aspirations of its Tamil population.

(The author is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan.)

Business Line


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