Manmohan, Rajapaksa hold meeting after two years

Visiting Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa assured Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here on Thursday that administrative and other steps were underway to hold elections in the Tamil majority Northern Province.

This was the first detailed discussion on all substantive issues since June 2010, said officials sources providing a brief outline of the meeting between the two leaders after two years.

The Sri Lankan President gave the assurance while responding to the Prime Minister’s observations on the issue of devolution of powers so that the Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka “can look forward to a future where they can live with dignity and respect,” said official sources.

Mr. Rajapaksa indicated that elections in the Northern Province should not be far off in view of the fact that elections were recently held in three other provinces. Official sources did not mention the Sri Lankan President talking of a timeline for holding elections, which is among the steps sought by India for the reconciliation of Tamils.

The absence of progress on giving political rights to the Tamils after the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009 was the main reason for India voting against Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council in March this year. A great deal of unrest in Tamil Nadu can be attributed to this issue as well. The fishermen’s issue is the other.

In this respect, the sources said the Prime Minister emphasised the need to treat fishermen humanely in cases where they might stray across the maritime boundary. Both leaders agreed that it would be best for fishermen’s associations to meet and discuss these issues further. They also noted the momentum of economic ties and assessed the growth of commercial relations positively.

The Sri Lankan President thanked Dr. Singh for the Kapilavastu relics expositions and said the fact that over 30 lakh Sri Lankans were able to pay their respects signified the strong cultural ties between the two peoples. This is the second visit of Kapilavastu relics to Sri Lanka. The first was in 1978.

Before meeting the Prime Minister in the evening, Mr. Rajapaksa called on President Pranab Mukherjee. Both meetings consisted of discussions in a restricted format, followed by meetings along with delegations. Each of the two meetings lasted more than 40 minutes.