India-Lanka accord key to political solution: Sri Lanka

January 17th, 2009 - 12:27 am ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Jan 16 (IANS) Appreciating the continued “understanding of India on issues of mutual concern”, Sri Lanka said Friday that the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka accord is still the key to seeking a political solution to the island’s ethnic conflict. Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama made the remarks during a meeting with visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon here Friday.

Coinciding with his visit, India Friday announced the second instalment of humanitarian assistance amounting to 40 million (Sri Lankan) rupees for the war-affected civilians in Sri Lanka’s north.

“Reiterating that the Sri Lankan government perceives the Indo-Lanka Accord as the key to seeking a political solution to the conflict, the minister observed that the present juncture offers a window of opportunity to implement the accord, given the decisive victories gained by the government in combating the LTTE terror on all fronts,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Minister Bogollagama said that the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa “is currently in the process of exploring several avenues of implementing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution”.

The 13th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution was enacted following the Indo-Lanka accord and talks about sharing powers to the nine provincial councils as unit of devolution. The war-ravaged North-East province, merged following the Indo-Lanka Accord, was de-merged nearly 20 years later following a Supreme Court ruling in November 2006.

Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, who arrived in Colombo late Thursday, is expected to meet President Rajapaksa Saturday to discuss issues of bilateral interest and exchange views on the current development in the war-ravaged north, where the government troops are fighting the Tamil Tigers in their last strongholds.

He is also expected to meet leader of the main opposition United National Party (UNP) Ranil Wickremesinghe and leaders of key Tamil and Muslim parties during his two-day stay here.

Menon handed over a token consignment of medicines to senior presidential advisor Basil Rajapaksa as part of the humanitarian assistance by India at a simple ceremony here Friday.

“The first consignment of approximately 1,700 tonnes comprising 80,000 ready-to-use family packs containing food, clothing and personal hygiene items arrived in Sri Lanka within three weeks and has already been distributed to those in need with the assistance of the ICRC and the co-operation of the government of Sri Lanka,” said an Indian high commission statement.

“India will continue to work with Sri Lanka in meeting the humanitarian needs of the civilian population in northern Sri Lanka,” it said.

According to the foreign ministry statement, Menon has hailed that the bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka have reached “an unprecedented level of depth and quality today”.

“Secretary Menon extended his appreciation of the proactive role played by Sri Lanka both multilaterally and in the regional context in combating terrorism, and extended the unstinted support of the Indian government in this exercise,” the statement said.

Expressing satisfaction at the increase in bilateral trade within the framework of the Indo-Lanka Free Trade Agreement, Minister Bogollagama has expressed “Sri Lanka’s desire to work closely with India in upgrading the bilateral FTA to a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in the foreseeable future”.

The two sides have also discussed progress within SAARC, including issues concerning the Standing Committee and the Council of Ministers sessions due to take place in Colombo shortly.

Although the state-run Daily News under the headline ‘Welcome’ carried the photograph of Menon in its front page, the radical Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), well-known for its anti-India stand, has said that the “ulterior motive” of Menon would be to force Colombo “to evolve a political solution devolving power beyond the 13th Amendment”.

JVP parliamentarian Bimal Ratnayake has reportedly said that India had no right to apply pressure on Sri Lanka to go for power devolution at this hour, which he said would help separatism.

Claiming that thousands of youth had to sacrifice their lives in Sri Lanka “due to certain blunders committed by India in the past”, Ratnayake has said that India forced Sri Lanka to sign the Indo-Lanka accord in 1987.

“There were mass agitations against it, which led to the killing of thousands of youth. We believe that there should be a friendly relationship between the two countries. It lasts as far as India does not interfere with the sovereignty of our country,” the JVP MP was quoted as saying Friday.

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