External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has conveyed to his Sri Lankan counterpart GL Peiris that Colombo’s interests are best served by ensuring equality, justice and respect for the Tamil people within a united Sri Lanka and called for expeditiously taking forward mutually beneficial projects including the ones to enhance air and sea connectivity.
In his talks with Peiris in New Delhi on Monday, Mr Jaishankar also talked about the need for keeping the shared maritime domain safe from various contemporary threats and assured that India would always stand by the island nation in its times of need, according to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
The MEA said on Tuesday that both sides reiterated the longstanding consensus to handle the fishermen issue through a humanitarian approach and refrain from the use of violence in dealing with incidents along the IMBL (international maritime boundary line).
It said the Sri Lankan foreign minister expressed gratitude for India’s recent assistance and updated the external affairs minister on the steps taken by the government of Sri Lanka on human rights and reconciliation.
In the talks, Mr Jaishankar also said that “devolution of power” is an important aspect of the Tamil reconciliation process.
India has been consistently calling upon Sri Lanka to fulfil its commitments to protect the interests of the Tamil community which has been demanding the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that provides for devolution of power to it.
The 13th amendment was brought in after the Indo-Sri Lankan agreement of 1987.
“Recalling the positive impact of India’s developmental and rehabilitation support, the external affairs minister emphasised that Sri Lanka’s interests are best served by ensuring equality, justice, peace and respect for the Tamil people within a united Sri Lanka. Devolution of power is an important aspect of this process,” the MEA said in a statement.
Besides holding extensive talks with Mr Jaishankar, the Sri Lankan foreign minister also met National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla.
Peiris arrived in Delhi on Sunday on a three-day official visit.
The MEA said that the external affairs minister underscored the priority accorded to Sri Lanka by India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) vision and the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.
“He called for expeditiously taking forward mutually beneficial projects, including proposals to enhance air and sea connectivity between India and Sri Lanka to reinforce people to people linkages, economic and investment initiatives, additional steps to enhance Sri Lanka’s energy security, keeping our shared maritime domain safe from various contemporary threats and cooperation in combating COVID-19 pandemic,” the MEA said.
The reference to shared maritime interests and contemporary threats came in the backdrop of China’s increasing presence in the maritime domain.
The MEA said Mr Jaishankar conveyed that India would always stand with Sri Lanka during its times of need.
“The Sri Lankan foreign minister expressed gratitude for India’s recent assistance and updated the external affairs minister on the steps taken by the government of Sri Lanka on human rights and reconciliation,” the MEA said.
The visit by Peiris to India came days after India extended a $500 million line of credit to Sri Lanka to help it purchase petroleum products as the island nation has been reeling under a severe foreign exchange and energy crisis.
It is the first visit Peiris to India as foreign minister in his current term.
“Both sides reiterated the longstanding consensus to handle fishermen issue through humanitarian approach and refrain from the use of violence in dealing with incidents along the IMBL. They agreed that bilateral mechanisms should meet early, starting with the Joint Working Group on Fisheries,” the MEA said.
The fishermen issue is a contentious one in ties between the two sides.
There have been several alleged incidents in the past of Sri Lankan Navy personnel using force against Indian fishermen in the Palk Strait which is a narrow strip of water separating Tamil Nadu from Sri Lanka.
The MEA said both the ministers discussed the entire gamut of bilateral relations and explored ways to further strengthen the close and friendly ties between India and Sri Lanka.
“Noting that this year marks 75 years of independence and establishment of diplomatic relations, both leaders agreed to mark the occasion in a suitable way,” the MEA said.
“The two ministers also exchanged views on cooperation in regional platforms like BIMSTEC and Colombo Security Conclave. The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister invited the external affairs minister to visit Sri Lanka,” it said.
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