Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao called on Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa here on Sunday and exchanged views on a whole range of issues of mutual interest to both the countries in general and the ongoing rehabilitation of war-displaced Tamil civilians in particular.
Ms. Rao is here on a three-day visit on the invitation of the Sri Lankan government to the island nation. Her visit comes a few days after the External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna told the Rajya Sabha in a written answer that the war in the island nation was over but the search for a political settlement continued.
“The government [of India] is of the view that the conclusion of the military operations in Sri Lanka provides an opportunity to make a new beginning and pursue a lasting political settlement in Sri Lanka,” the Minister had said and added that “the necessity of reaching a political settlement has been stressed to the Sri Lankan government.”
This is Ms. Rao's first visit to Sri Lanka since she took charge as Foreign Secretary and it is the first visit of an Indian official of her stature since the re-election of Mr. Rajapaksa in the January 26 Presidential election.
A statement by the Sri Lanka Presidential Secretariat said Mr. Rajapaksa told Ms. Rao that there was considerable success in resettling internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the North and the East, with the number now standing at less than 70,000. This issue had now gone away from the attention of the international community, she said.
On the current political developments in Sri Lanka, she said the presence of more than 1,000 candidates for the coming general elections and the elections to the Northern and Eastern provinces showed the enthusiasm of the people for the democratic process, and the change that had taken place with the restoration of peace. “There is a great sense of hope and optimism in the air wherever I have been to,” she said.
Ms. Rao conveyed to Mr. Rajapaksa India's willingness to continue assisting Sri Lanka in the resettlement of the IDPs.
“Similarly, India was also keen to assist in the complete restoration of the railway line in the North. Among other matters of mutual interest discussed were that of the problems faced by fisherman from both counties, the proposed coal powered power project in Trincomalee, and the necessity for understanding between India and Sri Lanka on the protection of the environment and the eco-systems,” a statement by the Presidential Secretariat said.
Colombo and Sri Lanka have been Ms. Rao's diplomatic home away from home beginning from the 1980s. She was India's High Commissioner in Colombo during the eventful years of 2004-2006, when governments changed and the Eelam War IV began. Against this backdrop, several constituencies within and outside the island nation have varied expectations from the visit.
The statement said Ms. Rao congratulated the President for his resounding victory in the recent Presidential election and observed that so much had taken place for the better in Sri Lanka since she was last here as High Commissioner.
Towards better ties
During the meeting, Ms. Rao said the victory of the President gave much cause for confidence and hope for bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka in the future, and the Indian Prime Minister looked forward to an early visit by Mr. Rajapaksa to India.
Among other matters of mutual interest discussed were the problems faced by fishermen from both countries, the proposed coal powered power project in Trincomalee, and the necessity for an understanding between India and Sri Lanka on the protection of the environment and the eco-systems.