Visiting Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao called on Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa here on Sunday and exchanged views on whole range of issues of mutual interest to both the counties in general and the ongoing rehabilitation and resettlement of the nearly three lakh Tamil civilians displaced during the war between the Sri Lankan forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the course of the 34 month war (July 2006 to May 2009) in particular.
Ms. Rao is here on a three day visit on the invitation of the Sri Lankan Government to the island nation for interaction with her interlocutors on a wide range of issues of mutual interest to both the counties. Her visit comes days after the External Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishna told Rajya Sabha in a written answer that the war in the island nation is over but the search for a political settlement continues.
"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 went on to add that "the necessity of reaching a political settlement has been stressed to the Sri Lankan government."
Colombo and Sri Lanka have been Ms. Rao’s diplomatic home away from home beginning from the 1980s. She was India’s High Commissioner for India in Colombo during the eventful years of 2004-2006, when governments changed and the Eelam War IV commenced. Against this backdrop several constituencies within and outside the island nation have varied expectations from the visit.
Mahinda Rajapaksa Government expects New Delhi to continue help in the process of rehabilitation and resettlement of the war displaced and find a political solution acceptable to all the stake holders in the ethnic strife. Sections of the Tamil Diaspora are of the view that New Delhi should use its good offices to prevail upon Sri Lanka not to rush into holding of election to the Northern Provincial Council in view of the prevailing situation.
This is the first visit of Ms. Rao to Sri Lanka since she took charge of the office of Foreign Secretary and it is the first visit of any 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 here that in her meeting with Mr. Rajapaksa the Indian Foreign Secretary was of the view that Sri Lanka had made considerable success on the resettling of IDPs in the North and the East, with the number now standing at less than 70,000, and noted that this issue had now gone away from the attention of the international community.
“She expressed 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”, it said.
The statement said she 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.
During the meeting she said the victory of the President gave much cause for confidence and hope for bi-lateral relations between India and Sri Lanka in the future, and that the Indian Prime Minister looked forward to an early visit by President Rajapaksa to India.
On the current political developments in Sri Lanka, she said that the presence of more than 1,000 candidates for the forthcoming general election and the North and Eastern Provinces alone 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.
Among other matters of mutual interest discussed were that of the problems faced by fishermen 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.
President Rajapaksa later hosted Foreign Secretary to lunch at Janadhipathi Manidiraya. She was accompanied by the Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Ashok Kantha. President Rajapaksa was accompanied in the discussions by Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary, Foreign Affairs, Romesh Jayasinghe and the Governor of the Central Bank, Ajith Nivard Cabraal.
The Indian Foreign Secretary earlier in the day participated in the opening of the Sri Lanka-India Centre of English Language Training ( SLICELT) at Peradeniya. At the function she said the President’s vision to promote the teaching of English in Sri Lanka deserved commendation, and that India was glad to assist in this task.
President Rajapaksa thanked India for the assistance given to the furtherance of his policy of providing English as a life skill to Sri Lankan youth.
Ms. Rao also said the participation of more than 3,000 pilgrims from India at the recent feast at the shrine of St, Anthony in Kachchativu was a further indication of the good interaction between the Sri Lankan and Indian people.