Talks with MPs from the State cordial, says Foreign Minister Bogollagama

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama on Wednesday called for continuous interactions with Tamil Nadu to strengthen and enhance the "long, historical relationship that happily exists" between the people of the island nation and the State.

The Minister made the observation in the course of his interaction with the visiting Tamil Nadu parliamentary delegation. He said interactions with Tamil Nadu would take place through the good offices of the Government of India.

Led by the former Union Minister T.R. Baalu, the delegation left for Chennai at the end of its five-day visit after a tour of Jaffna, government-run temporary relief camps for the nearly 2.5 lakh war displaced people in the north and hill country where a majority of the Indian origin Sri Lankan Tamils work in the plantation sector.

The delegation called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa and representatives of the Tamil and Muslim parties. It discussed the issues of resettlement of the war displaced at the earliest and the need for a permanent solution to the ethnic strife in the island nation with maximum devolution of powers to the province.

Mr. Bogollagama told a news conference, after his meeting with the delegation, that among the issues of common interest were intrusions by Indian fishermen and punitive action by the Sri Lankan Navy; exchange of prisoners in each other country's jails; resumption of the ferry service between Rameswaram and Talaimannar; connectivity between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka and the question of the war displaced housed in camps in the north.

Mr. Bogollagama said the talks with the Tamil Nadu MPs were held in a cordial manner. "We are friends. There is no room for confrontation."

To a question on the main issue raised by the Indian delegation, the Minister said it wanted the refugees in the camps sent back home as soon as possible.

The Sri Lankan government, on its part, demonstrated to the visiting MPs that it was "transparent" on the issue of refugees and "inclusive" in its approach to the political questions relating to the Tamils.

Mr. Bogollagama said Presidential Adviser Basil Rajapaksa had explained the rehabilitation plan as well as the demining programme that was under way. Mr. Basil Rajapaksa was of the view that it was not right to insist that the refugees be sent back to their villages and farms when these places were bristling with landmines.

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa explained to the MPs that the threat from the LTTE still remained given that many unidentified cadres were still in camps, and cleverly hidden arms dumps were being periodically discovered in areas in the Wanni, formally under LTTE control.

Asked whether the MPs were convinced with the government's presentation, the Minister said: "I do not know what they will say when they get back, but I believe they were convinced."

On insistence by mediapersons, Mr. Baalu merely said the delegation was allowed to go wherever it wanted and talk freely to the people.

Asked if he was satisfied with the condition of the refugees, the DMK MP declined to answer. He said the delegation would submit a report to Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi.

"Sri Lankan MPs insulted"

Separately, Democratic People's Front Leader Mano Ganesan said Sri Lankan MPs were insulted. While Tamil Nadu MPs were allowed to visit the IDP camps, Sri Lankan MPs were not, he said. He said one of the MPs in the delegation had accepted LTTE chief V. Prabakaran as his leader and stood for the division of Sri Lanka.

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