Foreign Ministers of Canada and India say no decision has been made about their countries’ participation Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The final decision will be made by the two Prime Ministers stated the ministers at a press conference in Toronto yesterday.
India’s external affairs minister Salman Khurshid said Saturday’s Northern Provincial Council elections concluded satisfactory and hoped enhanced dialogue would take place between parties in Sri Lanka. The elections were an important first step towards reconciliation, Minister John Baird added.
“Firstly I must say the experience of the Commonwealth as an important element in global politics. I know that some very difficult decisions have to be taken. We took some difficult decisions at the human rights council meeting,” Khurshid said.
He says Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was yet to announce a decision of his participation at CHOGM, adding his government faces “pressing domestic engagements.”
Meanwhile, Baird described an authoritarian trend of the Sri Lankan government and urged meaningful reconciliation with the country’s Tamil minority.
“The impeachment of the chief justice of the Supreme Court and her replacement by someone with close political ties to the government was hardly a confidence-building measure,” he said.
“The prime minister obviously said at Perth that he would not attend if the situation didn’t improve and I’ll let him make his announcement.”
INDO-LANKA FISHING DISPUTES
Khurshid described the ongoing fishing disputes and arrest of Indian fishermen a sentimental and touchy issue.
“These are Tamil fishermen on both sides. So it’s the livelihood of people from similar backgrounds,” he said. “The pressures of the election and the mood in the election perhaps factored into some of the fishermen who had been kept captive.”
Recent concerns were raised following massive Indian fishing vessels, employing bottom-trawling methods crossing into Sri Lankan waters, according to a report in Colombo’s Sunday Times these vessels use nets that scrape the bottom of the sea resulting in severe damage to Sri Lanka’s maritime environment.
When asked about over-fishing, Minister Kurshid responded, saying a code of conduct must be implemented to prevent further outrage or discomfort between the two sides.
“We’re working on getting the fishermen on the two sides together. We’ve reached quite a distance to get them to sit down and work out some code of conduct by which they don’t stray into each other’s areas,” he said
“We take onboard the concern that the manner of fishing doesn’t hurt the environment and the regeneration of fishing resources.”
Commonwealth foreign ministers will meet on Friday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.