Sri Lanka has assured India that it would resettle all internally displaced persons (IDPs) of Tamil origin by the end of January. It also agreed on establishing an institutional mechanism to resolve issues relating to fishermen.
Although External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna was pessimistic about Sri Lanka settling all the IDPs within the assured time frame during his statement in Parliament last week, the high-level Sri Lankan delegation visiting India “indicated its resolve to resettle all of them by the end of January.”
The three-member delegation consisted of Senior Adviser to the President, Basil Rajapaksa; Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunga, and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. The troika is seen as an informal group set up by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to interact on crucial issues with interlocutors from other countries and has travelled several times to New Delhi.
During the two-day visit which ended on Thursday, the delegation interacted with National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar.
Both sides reviewed the ongoing relief, rehabilitation and resettlement efforts in northern Sri Lanka with Colombo pointing out that over 1.58 lakh IDPs have left the camps and around 1.15 lakh remained.
A joint statement issued at the end of the visit said the Sri Lankan side had detailed the steps initiated to resettle the IDPs in their original places of habitation. They indicated their resolve to resettle everyone before January-end.
Welcoming the initial steps taken by Colombo to relax movement and travel restrictions on IDPs, the Indian side expressed the hope that the IDPs would resume their livelihood and return to a life of normality.
Both sides recognised the importance of sustaining peace and moving towards a political solution in Sri Lanka and noted the holding of local elections in Jaffna and Vavuniya.
“Both sides agreed on the need for political arrangements which would serve the legitimate interests and meet the aspirations of all Sri Lankan citizens. The Sri Lankan side reiterated the government’s commitment to a political process that would lead to lasting peace and reconciliation,” the statement said.
India and Sri Lanka also agreed to take the Joint Statement on Fishing Arrangements into the realm of an institutional arrangement by agreeing to convene the Joint Working Group on Fishing Cooperation. This panel will continue discussions on the draft MoU to put in place an institutional arrangement.