A political settlement to Tamils in Sri Lanka and a solution that answers the aspirations of the Tamil community…is the most important issue to be resolved, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna told Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, here on Tuesday.

During the 90-minute breakfast meeting between the two leaders at Temple Trees, the official residence of the Sri Lankan President, a wide range of issues were discussed but the focus remained firmly on the Tamil question.

With relations between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil National Alliance, the only credible representative of the Tamil people of the north, hitting an all time low, Indian Foreign Minister S.M.Krishna urged Sri Lankan to move towards an expeditious political settlement of the Tamil issue.

Mr.Krishna’s call comes at a time when reports have appeared in a section of the Sri Lankan press, saying that the Government had called off talks with the TNA because the TNA had not named its members to the Parliamentary Select Committee constituted on the Tamil question. The government was also unhappy with the TNA roundly criticising the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which studied the war years, and made recommendations on how to achieve the goal of a peaceful and united Sri Lanka.

Rajapaksa’s assurance

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Tuesday again assured Mr.Krishna that he stood by his commitment to follow the “13th Amendment plus approach” to achieve a political solution to the Tamil question.

“I discussed this matter [political solution for Tamils] with His Excellency the President this morning. The President assured me that he stands by his commitment to pursuing the 13th Amendment [to the Sri Lankan Constitution] plus approach,” Mr.Krishna told presspersons here after meeting the Sri Lankan President. “The Government of Sri Lanka has on many occasions conveyed to us its commitment to move towards a political settlement based on the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, and building on it, so as to achieve meaningful devolution of powers. We look forward to an expeditious and constructive approach to the dialogue process. We believe that continuation of the dialogue between the Government and the TNA would pave the way for political settlement, including under the rubric of the Parliamentary Select Committee,” he added.

Foreign Ministers meet

Mr.Krishna also met his Sri Lankan counterpart, G.L. Peiris, and reviewed progress in various areas, including trade, services and investment, development cooperation, science and technology, culture and education. “I am satisfied that the projects under our development partnership have progressed well since my last visit,” he said.

Mr.Krishna and Prof. Peiris signed a MoU specifying the modalities for the next phase of the Housing Project being implemented with India's assistance of about US $ 260 million. The MoU involves the construction of 49,000 houses, out of a total of 50,000 houses. The Pilot Project for construction of the first 1000 houses is in an advanced stage of completion. Mr.Krishna, during his visit to Jaffna on Wednesday, would be handing over the first lot of these houses to the beneficiaries.

India and Sri Lanka also signed MoUs for Cooperation in the Field of Agriculture and for Cooperation between the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and Telecommunication Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka.

Mr.Krishna described the issue of fishermen being shot in the Palk Straits as “an emotive” one that needed to be handled with care on both sides. “As we explore possible solutions, we must ensure that there is no use of force against the fishermen and that they are treated in a humane manner. We were happy to note that the Joint Working Group on Fisheries which met a couple of days ago, was able to look at various options to address this issue,” he said.

Earlier, on Monday, Mr. Krishna had met with representatives of the Tamil National Alliance and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress separately. The TNA leadership conveyed the lack of urgency on the part of Sri Lanka to work towards a political solution to the Tamil question. The SLMC stressed the need for the Muslim minority to be considered while drawing up a solution.

Meanwhile, The Island newspaper reported on Tuesday that the Sri Lankan government had suspended a crucial round of talks with the TNA, angered over the TNA’s criticism of the LLRC report in a detailed 70-page study.