Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will on Tuesday meet Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa for the first time since 2012, on what will likely be his last official foreign visit, a two-day summit here of leaders of the seven nations participating in the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).
The meeting comes just days ahead of a scheduled vote at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on a resolution calling for an international inquiry into alleged Sri Lankan war crimes.
Dr. Singh had declined to travel to Sri Lanka for the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit, amid intense criticism of the country’s human rights record.
Tamil Nadu politicians have criticised the meeting, with Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader M. Karunanidhi writing in a party journal that while Tamils were “seeking a resolution for an independent probe into war crimes in Sri Lanka, Singh is holding talks with Rajapaksa, ignoring sentiments of Tamils.”
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid responded sharply to the criticism, saying “We engage specifically for the welfare of the Tamils of Sri Lanka, and in protecting their welfare and interests.”
“I think someone should ask the 50,000 Tamil families in the Northern Province who have got Indian-built homes what they think of our engagement. I doubt very much that they would want us to cut off contact with Sri Lanka, leaving them with no livelihoods and their children without schools.”
Dr. Singh began his meetings with key regional leaders on Monday, holding talks with Nepal’s new Prime Minister, Sushil Koirala — who stirred comment among media in his country by choosing to travel in a scheduled flight rather than a chartered aircraft.
Mr. Khurshid said Mr. Koirala had been “very forthright, very candid and very positive about India-Nepal relations.” The two Prime Ministers’ discussions, Mr. Khurshid said, not only focussed on Nepal’s Constitution-building process, but also addressed infrastructure and economic cooperation.
Dr. Singh and Myanmar’s President Thein Sen discussed the progress of bilateral measures to contain insurgent groups operating across the border.
The two leaders discussed work on construction of an Indian-Myanmar-Thailand highway and Indian involvement in Myanmar’s gasfields — the 10th largest in the world.