Diplomacy

Meeting Expectations of Tamils Is in Sri Lanka's Interests: Jaishankar in Colombo

In his remarks, foreign minister Gunawardana stated that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was "committed to the well-being progress and opportunities of all our citizens, Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and all".

New Delhi: Indian external affairs minister Dr S. Jaishankar said meeting the expectations of Tamil people on devolution, especially under the 13th constitutional Amendment, was in Sri Lanka’s interest and would advance prosperity in the island nation.

Jaishankar reiterated the Indian position in his remarks to the media following talks with his Sri Lankan counterpart, Dinesh Gunawardana in Colombo on Wednesday.

“As we promote peace and well-being in the region, India has been strongly committed to the unity, stability and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. Our support for the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka is longstanding, as indeed for an inclusive political outlook that encourages ethnic harmony,” said Jaishankar.

He claimed that it was in Sri Lanka’s “own interest” that Tamil people’s expectations for “equality, justice, peace and dignity” within a united country were met. “That applies equally to the commitments made by the Sri Lankan government on meaningful devolution, including the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The progress and prosperity of Sri Lanka will surely be advanced as a consequence,” he stated.

There had been calls from Sri Lanka’s ruling party to abolish the 13th Amendment, a result of the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka accord that lays down the legal structure and mandate for provincial councils. The criticism had grown more robust following the passage of the 20th Constitutional Amendment, which bolsters presidential powers.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had earlier called for full implementation of the 13th Amendment during his bilateral summit with Lankan PM Mahinda Rajapaksa last September. However, that was before the controversial constitutional Amendment was passed in October 2019.

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In his remarks, foreign minister Gunawardana stated that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was “committed to the well-being progress and opportunities of all our citizens, Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and all”.

While the foreign ministers did not mention it, a statement from Sri Lankan President’s secretariat that Indian-sponsored projects like East Container Terminal at Colombo port were discussed. The project has been stalled due to opposition from workers opposed to handing over the ECT for development and operation to foreign firms.

The statement also noted that India was “ready to give priority to Sri Lanka” in supplying vaccine to combat covid-19.

“Commenting on the future course of action to control the COVID-19 pandemic during the ensuing discussion President stated that Sri Lanka would like to obtain the COVID vaccine, which is being produced by India following an accurate assessment of the need for treatment. Dr Jaishankar agreed to give priority to Sri Lanka when his country begins exporting the vaccine to other countries,” it stated.

Jaishankar had stated that the “early implementation” of the pending projects was “obviously in our mutual interest and would definitely accelerate Sri Lanka’s economic recovery”.

Asserting that Indian business was interested in investing in Sri Lanka, he added that new opportunities were discussed including “in special zones for pharmaceutical manufacturing as also in tourism. I will ensure an early follow-up from the Indian side”.

The arrest of the 36 Indian fishermen by Sri Lankan was also on the agenda, with Jaishankar stating that India “look(s) forward to the early return of our fishermen”.