Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Tuesday said his government was looking at devolution of power to ethnic Tamils under the provisions of the constitution, an issue India has been pursuing with the island nation.
After his talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Wickremesinghe pitched for deeper economic engagement with India and hoped that both countries will be able to finalise the long-pending Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement by next year.
On devolution of power to Tamils in Northern and Eastern provinces, he said “We are looking at how power sharing takes place within the constitution.”
India has been pressing Sri Lanka to implement the 13th amendment on devolution of powers to fulfil the aspirations of the ethnic Tamils.
The 13th amendment that followed the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of July 1987 signed between then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan president JR Jayewardene envisaged devolution of powers to the provinces in the midst of the island’s bitter ethnic conflict.
The Sri Lankan PM said various issues, including those relating to ethnic Tamil population, and the UNHRC resolution referring to alleged human rights violation in Sri Lanka figured in his talks with Modi.
The UN Human Rights Council had last year adopted a resolution requesting the High Commissioner for Human Rights to undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties during the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.
On the sticky fishermen issue, he said fishermen on both sides should continue discussion and come to a conclusion to resolve it in a time bound manner.
Wickremesinghe, who was sworn in Sri Lanka’s prime minister for the fourth time last month, said all the parties in his country wanted good relations with India.
He said enhancing bilateral trade with India would help his country reach the goal of generating one million jobs in Sri Lanka over the next five years.
“We think by end of the year, the two sides should at least come to an agreement in principle and by next year we should have an agreement,” he said at a joint press briefing with Modi.
India and Sri Lanka agreed to boost co-operation in combating terrorism and work together for security and stability in the maritime neighbourhood.
Both sides inked four agreements, including renewal of an MoU for Indian grant assistance for implementation of Small Development Projects and one for the supply of medical equipment to the District General Hospital at Vavuniya.
Modi, in his media statement after the talks, said both sides also discussed the fishermen issue.
Both agreed that fishermen’s associations on both sides should continue efforts to find a solution.
“I conveyed to him that this should be seen as a humanitarian issue that affects livelihoods,” Modi said, adding that he informed Wickremesinghe of the steps India was taking to encourage Indian fishermen to take up deep sea fishing.
He thanked Wickremesinghe for choosing India for his first overseas visit after his election last month.
Modi remarked that India had hosted President Maithripala Sirisena on his maiden visit abroad in February and that he had himself visited Sri Lanka in March.
“As a close neighbour and friend, we wish Sri Lanka every success, rejoice in your progress, and, assure you of India’s unwavering support,” Modi said.
He said both sides were keen for deeper economic engagement and want to see trade grow and become more balanced for Sri Lanka. (Press Trust of India)