India will expedite construction projects, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao assures President

President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Wednesday said Indian investor interest in Sri Lanka was rapidly growing and several leading Indian entrepreneurs in industry and other sectors had expressed interest in setting up business on the island.

Mr. Rajapaksa made the comment when Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao called on him here for an exchange of views on bilateral relations in general, and on the process of re-settlement of three lakh Tamil civilians displaced in the conflict between the Sri Lankan security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Ms. Rao met Mr. Rajapaksa after a tour of the war-ravaged Northern Province and Trincomalee in the Eastern Province.

In the course of her interaction with displaced people, Ms. Rao refuted reports in a section of the local media that Indian labour would be engaged in the execution of India-aided projects.

“Look to the future”

The Foreign Secretary — the first to travel to the region in nearly three decades — in response to questions from a section of the audience in Jaffna, urged the people to look to the future and not be bogged down in the past.

The sense of officials accompanying her was that Tamil civilians in the Northern Province were keen on having a government of their own that would give them a decisive say in the governance of their affairs.

India has been pressing the Rajapaksa government to move towards political resolution of the ethnic conflict.

A statement from the President's office said that during the 45-minute meeting between Ms. Rao and Mr. Rajapaksa, she expressed satisfaction with the progress in the resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and development activities in the North.

“She had visited Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Vavuniya and other places in the North, as well as the East, and had seen that conditions were quite satisfactory. She assured the President that India would expedite the projects undertaken by her country, including the housing project for IDPs and the reconstruction of the railway line in the North,” the statement said.

Mr. Rajapaksa told Ms. Rao that IDPs and other persons of the area should be involved in these projects, especially housing projects, so that they would have a sense of ownership.

Praise for resilience

Earlier in the day, Ms. Rao visited Mullaithivu and lauded the people there for meeting the challenges during the war and beginning life anew. She hailed them for being “resilient like steel,” saying: “India is ready to open its heart to help resettle, rebuild and restore their livelihood…We will not only build houses but also repair them. We want to participate in their recovery and progress.”

At Trincomalee, Ms. Rao met Eastern Chief Minister Pillayan and discussed construction of houses in the province. She said the beneficiaries had to be identified, noting that “we have widows, the old and the handicapped.” She also visited the Thirukoneswaram temple in Trincomalee.

Ms. Rao met representatives of Tamil parties which are asking India to pressure the Rajapaksa government to give greater powers to the provinces.