Today's Paper

We will ensure the safety of civilians, says Sri Lanka

B. Muralidhar Reddy

Victories offer a political opportunity: Pranab Mukherjee

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka and India late on Tuesday night agreed that the recent victories of the Sri Lankan military against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) offer a ‘political opportunity’ to restore life to normality in the Northern Province.

At a 90-minute meeting between Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the former assured India that his government would do its utmost to ensure the safety of the trapped civilians inside the war zone and looked forward to improving on the package of devolution of powers to provinces as envisaged in the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

Mr. Mukherjee, who arrived here on Tuesday night on an unscheduled visit accompanied by Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, called on Mr. Rajapaksa for a comprehensive discussion on the gamut of India- Sri Lanka relations, including the humanitarian crisis triggered by the ongoing war.

Terming it as a ‘bilateral visit,’ Mr. Mukherjee told journalists after his interaction with Mr. Rajapaksa that he had “detailed, useful and productive discussions.” He returned to New Delhi immediately after his meeting.

The Minister said India-Sri Lanka relations were developing strongly and it was particularly important at “this time of transition and change” that both sides should continue to strengthen ties.

Mr. Mukherjee said he told the President that military victories offered a political opportunity to restore life to normality in the Northern Province and throughout Sri Lanka and Mr. Rajapaksa concurred with his view.

“We will work together with the government of Sri Lanka to enable all Sri Lankans, and particularly the Tamil community who have borne the brunt of the effects of the conflict, to lead normal lives as soon as possible. For our part, I expressed our readiness to participate in the reconstruction of northern Sri Lanka so as to overcome the ravages of war and also to lay the economic and political foundations of a strong peace in which all communities feel comfortable.”

The Minister said India would be working with Sri Lanka on a “reconstruction plan” for areas affected by conflict and it would involve infrastructure and other support.

Mr. Mukherjee said Mr. Rajapaksa assured him that it was his intention to move as quickly as possible to implement the 13th Amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution, which followed the India-Sri Lanka agreement of 1987 and explore the possibility of “going further and improving upon those devolution proposals.”

The Minister said they also reviewed the humanitarian situation as a result of the conflict and the Sri Lankan government reassured him that they would respect the safe zones and minimise the effects of conflict on Tamil civilians.

Mr. Mukherjee said Mr. Rajapaksa was good enough to extend a personal invitation to an all-party delegation from Tamil Nadu led by Chief Minister Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha to see for themselves the situation on the ground and to persuade the LTTE to lay down arms and join the democratic mainstream.

“An early restoration of normal democratic life in the areas affected by the conflict would be a major contribution to peace and stability. India will do all that it can [to] bring this about, working with all those who work for this goal with us,” he said.

A statement issued by the President’s Secretariat said the visit of Mr. Mukherjee followed an invitation to him to visit Sri Lanka, “in keeping with the tradition of regular and constructive dialogue between India and Sri Lanka at the highest level.”

In response to a question, Mr. Mukherjee said he would communicate to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister about the invitation extended by Sri Lanka President to lead an all-party delegation to the island country.

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