Mathai raises issue of Tamil fishermen with Sri Lanka

October 10th, 2011 - 10:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Oct 10 (IANS) Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai Monday met Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and underlined the need for “national reconciliation” and also took up the sensitive issue of frequent attacks on Indian fishermen.

New Delhi has consistently impressed upon Colombo to quicken the pace of a political settlement within the framework of a united Sri Lanka, acceptable to all the communities in including the Tamils, in the island.

The Indian foreign secretary also met three Tamil politicians who complained that Colombo was settling Sinhalese in Sri Lanka’s Tamil-dominant north.

Mathai, who is here on his maiden visit since becoming India’s foreign secretary, also announced that India will help in re-building 79 schools in the war-affected Northern province in Vavuniya, Mullaithivu and Kilinochchi.

Mathai, who began his three-day visit to Sri Lanka Saturday, called on Rajapaksa and discussed an entire gamut of bilateral issues.

In his discussions, Mathai conveyed an appeal from New Delhi for the need to take concrete steps for genuine national reconciliation, reliable sources said.

Mathai said that Rajapaksa conveyed to him that besides talks with Tamil National Alliance (TNA) on the devolution for Tamil regions, his government will continue with the parliamentary select committee process.

The issue of attacks on Indian fishermen, which he discussed with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa in Chennai before heading to Colombo, figured prominently in the talks.

Mathai later said he had taken up the fishermen’s issue with the Sri Lankan government and was told that the island nation’s navy was not involved in the attacks.

The navy was under strict instructions not to attack Indian fishermen, he was told by the Sri Lankan authorities.

When he was in Jaffna Sunday, local officials put up a presentation on how local fishermen had to suffer due to alleged poaching by Indian fishermen in their waters. In response, Mathai emphasised that there was no room for violence as it was primarily an issue of livelihood.

He also suggested a meeting between representatives of the fishermen of the two sides to resolve the issues and recommended deep sea fishing as means to prevent clashes between the fishermen of the two countries.

Mathai also met three Tamil politicians V. Anadasangaree (Tamil United Liberation Front), D. Siddharthan (People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam) and T. Sritharan (Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front) at the India House as part of his interactions with political players in Sri Lanka.

The trio accused the government of trying to pit one ethnic group against another, following the end of the military conflict in May 2009, “to change the demographic pattern (of the northeast)”.

They claimed that Tamils were “highly perturbed” that the armed forces were busy building army villages, mini army camps and war memorials in the middle of Tamil settlements.

“The government has no plans for demilitarization. To the contrary, the forces are involving (themselves) more and more in the civil administration.”

“The people cannot (hold) any function without the participation of some army personnel. The people are terrified over the presence of army personnel in every nook and corner of the north,” they said.

They criticised as “unjustifiable” the government’s move to have all lands re-registered.

Mathai also visited the northern former war zone to review the progress of developmental projects under India’s assistance.

He inspected Kankasanthurai Harbour development project and the scheme for constructing 50,000 houses funded by the Indian government.

India will also take up work on restoration of the Tirukoteeswaram temple in Mannar, and offered help in restoration of another ancient temple near Sampur, he said.

Soon after the end of the insurgency led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, India launched humanitarian operations for displaced Tamils on a war footing and subsequently pledged over $1 billion for rebuilding of transport infrastructure and capacity building in the island country.

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