Colombo, September 27 (newsin.asia): Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to “address the aspirations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace and respect, within a united Sri Lanka, including by carrying forward the process of reconciliation with the implementation of the 13Amendment to the Constitution” is “heartily” welcomed by the Tamil people here, said M.A.Sumanthiran, spokesman of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).
Sumanthiran was commenting on the contents of the first-ever video summit between the Indian and Sri Lankan Prime Ministers on Saturday.
Call For Justice
The TNA spokesman particularly mentioned Modi’s call for “justice” for the Tamils as being significant because it is an indication, albeit oblique, of India’s desire to see that the issues of injustice rooted in the conduct of Eelam War IV are addressed to ensure ethnic reconciliation.
The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) had passed resolutions seeking, among other things, a credible judicial mechanism to go into war crimes allegedly committed by the Lankan armed forces in the final stage of the armed conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Resolutions came to be passed from 2012 and between 2015 and 2019, they were co-sponsored by the last Lankan “Good Governance” government. But in March 2019, the present government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa withdrew from co-sponsorship and in May 2019 he indicated that Sri Lanka is contemplating withdrawal from international organizations which continues to be partisan and leaning towards a terrorist organizations like the LTTE.
Gotabaya had said: “If any international body or organization continuously targets our country and our war heroes, using baseless allegations, I will also not hesitate to withdraw Sri Lanka from such bodies or organizations.”
Against this background, TNA spokesman Sumanthiran considers it significant that Modi mentioned “justice” for, and reconciliation with, the Tamils.
Sumanthiran however added that this was not first time that India raised the issue of post-war justice. “Foreign Minister S.Jaishankar had raised it with President Gotabaya when he called on him here in Colombo after the latter’s election in November last,” he recalled.
13(A) Gains Traction
However, what has gained traction in Sri Lanka, even in the Tamil media, is Modi’s call to Mahinda Rajapaksa to fully implement the 13 th.Amendment (13A) of the Lankan constitution, which gives the elected Provincial Councils some devolved power. He included it among the steps needed for ethnic reconciliation.
13A has gained traction because, at the moment, the Tamils fear the abolition of 13A since the minister in charge of Provincial Councils Adm (rtd) Sarath Werasekara has said that the 13A, with its provincial councils are burdensome and useless, and must be abolished.
The Hindu notes that while Mahinda Rajapaksa has consistently promised India and the island’s Tamil community his commitment to 13A, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who will likely enjoy greater powers according to the recently tabled 20th Amendment Bill, has emphatically said he would focus on “development rather than devolution”. He told The Hindu in an interview last year that he would not proceed on devolution “against the wishes and feeling of the majority [Sinhala] community”.
The Lankan media, barring the Tamil press, have almost totally ignored Modi’s demands in regard to the Tamils. The Lankan PM’s media only mentioned the subjects discussed by the two leaders and not their comments.
However, the Sunday Times said that Mahinda Rajapaksa did not single out the Tamils but broadly said that his government would strive to meet the expectation of all ethnic groups including the Tamils as per the constitution and the electoral mandate.
Both sides discussed cooperation on a number of infrastructure and energy projects India is keen to pursue in Trincomalee, and the Colombo East Container Terminal project, which it has bid for jointly with Japan. The Sri Lankan government had sought the use of the giant oil tanks in Trincomalee. India proposed a joint venture to do this. But the issue is still pending. Indian officials said Modi hoped for “early and decisive action” on many Indo-Lankan projects that have been pending for more than three years.
India has not yet responded with a decision on the requests made personally by Mahinda Rajapaksa during his visit to Delhi in February this year, for a three-year moratorium on Sri Lanka’s U$ 960-million debt owed to India, and for a US$ 1.1-billion currency swap arrangement, in addition to the US$ 400-million currency swap that the Reserve Bank of India has already sanctioned.
“Extending financial support to Sri Lanka is one of our priorities. Both these requests are being discussed at the official level and we hope for an agreement at the technical level shortly,” The Hindu quoted an Indian official as saying.
Poaching by Tamil Nadu Fishermen
The issues of Sri Lankan fishermen who have accused Indian fishermen of trespassing into their waters and the use of trawlers which deplete the fish populations were taken up by the two leaders.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs said the two leaders directed officials to discuss these issues further with a “constructive and humanitarian approach” and a view to meeting UN Sustainable Development Goals, the joint statement issued after the meeting said.
The reference to meeting UN Sustainable Development Goals is perhaps meant to address Sri Lanka’s deep concern about the destruction of the Palk Strait’s resources by fishing trawlers from Tamil Nadu. This has been extremely detrimental to the interests of the fishermen of the Mannar and Jaffna districts in North Sri Lanka.
Air Bubble To Circumvent COVID-19 Restrictions
The two sides resolved to work on a proposal from Modi for an “air travel bubble” to restart trade and tourism ties that have been hit by the pandemic, The Hindu said.
India also announced a grant of US$ 15 million for the “promotion of Buddhist ties” including the restoration of monasteries and facilitation of pilgrims to India’s newest international airport at the Buddhist site of Kushinagar. Modi had asked Rajapaksa to inaugurate the international airport in Kushinagar (in Uttar Pradesh) by sending a Sri Lanka Airlines flight with Buddhist pilgrims on board. Signifying his interest in having Buddhism as a plan for good relations with Sri Lanka, Modi had behind him a large statue of the Buddha.
Expediting the construction of 10,000 housing units in the plantation areas, as promised in 2017, was urged by Prime Minister Modi.