Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday pitched for full implementation of a constitutional provision by the new Sri Lankan government to ensure devolution of powers to the minority Tamil community in the island nation even as he announced a grant of USD 15 million for promotion of bilateral Buddhist ties.
The issue of Tamil reconciliation process figured prominently at a virtual summit between Modi and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa who assumed charge of the top post last month for a fresh tenure after his party secured a two-thirds majority in the parliamentary polls.
In the talks that lasted for about an hour, the two sides agreed to enhance anti-terror cooperation, further expand maritime security ties, strengthen trade and investment relationship, and delved into implementation of the East Container Terminal (ECT) project in Colombo port involving India and Japan.
On the Tamil issues, Prime Minister Modi emphasised that implementation of the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution is essential for carrying forward the process of peace and reconciliation, Joint Secretary (Indian Ocean Region) at the Ministry of External Affairs Amit Narang said at a media briefing.
“Prime Minister Modi called on the new government in Sri Lanka to work towards realising the expectations of Tamils for equality, justice, peace and dignity within a united Sri Lanka by achieving reconciliation nurtured by implementation of the constitutional provisions,” he said.
A joint statement issued after the talks said Rajapaksa expressed the confidence that Sri Lanka will work towards realising the expectations of all ethnic groups, including Tamils, by achieving reconciliation nurtured as per the mandate of the people and through implementation of the constitutional provisions.
The 13th amendment provides for devolution of power to the Tamil community.
India has been pressing Sri Lanka to implement the 13th amendment which was brought in after the Indo-Sri Lankan agreement of 1987.
In the talks, India raised the issue of the ECT project in Colombo port as it was put on hold by Colombo nearly a year after a pact for its implementation was signed by among Sri Lanka, Japan and India in 2019.
“Prime Minister Modi expressed confidence that the new government will take early and decisive steps for implementation of these projects,” Narang said when asked about the project being implemented by India and Japan.
In the summit, Modi also expressed his hope that the temporary restrictions imposed by the Sri Lankan side on the imports of some products will be relaxed soon since it will also benefit the economy and common people of the island nation.
The joint statement said the two leaders agreed to enhance cooperation to combat terrorism and drug trafficking including in the fields of intelligence, information sharing, de-radicalisation and capacity building.
It said Modi and Rajapaksa also agreed to work towards early realisation of infrastructure and connectivity projects including in the sectors of ports and energy through close consultations as per the bilateral agreements and MoUs.
Testifying to the long-standing civilisational links and cultural heritage between the two neighbours, Modi announced a grant assistance of USD 15 million for the promotion of Indo-Lanka Buddhist ties, Narang said.
Elaborating on economic issues, Narang said technical negotiations on Sri Lanka’s request for deferment of payment of debt to India and to grant an additional currency swap arrangement of around USD 1 billion is under discussion.
India has already provided Sri Lanka a USD 400 million currency swap facility to help it with economic recovery.
Narang said the two leaders also exchanged views on the fishermen issue, and agreed to continue and strengthen the ongoing “constructive and humanitarian” approach to address it under existing bilateral mechanisms.
“The discussions were held in a friendly, frank and cordial manner.
The outcomes of the Summit are substantial, forward looking and also help to set an ambitious agenda for bilateral ties,” he said.
Narang said the two prime ministers expressed satisfaction with the robustness of the security and defence cooperation between the two sides.
“They agreed to continue and further strengthen the mutual cooperation on personnel exchange and training, maritime security cooperation and India’s support to Sri Lanka in the spheres of defence and security,” he added.
Narang said the two leaders agreed to further strengthen cooperation in areas of economy and trade, agriculture, animal husbandry, science and technology and health care.
In the talks, India’s development partnership in Sri Lanka was discussed and both sides reached an understanding to extend a pact on High Impact Community Development Projects (HICDPs) for a five-year period beginning 2020.
“Both leaders agreed to continue the successful Indian housing project and gave instructions to the relevant officials to fast-track the construction of 10,000 houses in the plantation sector,” Narang said.
In his opening remarks, Modi said he was confident that the massive electoral victory by the ruling party in Sri Lanka backed by Rajapaksa government’s policies will facilitate deeper cooperation between the two countries.
Narang said Rajapaksa expressed his firm resolve to use the opportunity provided by the strong two-thirds majority achieved by his party-led alliance in the last month’s elections to take India-Sri Lanka engagement to new heights.
It was Modi’s first such virtual bilateral engagement with a leader of a neighbouring country.
For Rajapaksa, it was the first diplomatic engagement with a leader of a foreign country after he was sworn in as prime minister.
Narang said Rajapaksa made a special mention of the “excellent support” rendered by the Indian Coast Guard and Indian Navy to Sri Lanka in controlling a fire on board a ship carrying a crude oil cargo of 270,000 MT.
“Both leaders acknowledged the progress made in information sharing and cooperation in both counter-terrorism efforts and in dealing with regional drug trafficking,” Narang said.
Modi and Rajapaksa also discussed the economic dimension of the challenges posed by COVID-19 and acknowledged the need for close coordination on issues such as trade and investment.
The Indian delegation at the talks included External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla.
The joint statement said both Modi and Rajapaksa acknowledged the increasing convergence on regional and international issues of mutual engagement, including within the frameworks of SAARC, BIMSTEC and the UN system.
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is a regional bloc comprising India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is another regional grouping of seven nations of South Asia and Southeast Asia.
“Recognizing that BIMSTEC is an important platform for regional cooperation linking South Asia with South East Asia, both leaders agreed to work together to ensure a successful BIMSTEC Summit to be hosted under the chairmanship of Sri Lanka,” the joint statement said. (New Indian Express)