Indian Foreign Secretary’s visit puts at rest geo-political tensions | Sunday Observer

Indian Foreign Secretary’s visit puts at rest geo-political tensions

10 October, 2021

Sri Lanka will not allow the country to be used for any activity that threatens India’s national security, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa assured visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla last week, reiterating that he wished to promote the Indian Ocean region as a peace zone.

He stressed that India should not hold any misgivings over such a prospect, when he met the visiting top Indian envoy at the Presidential Secretariat on Tuesday.

‘President Rajapaksa explained ‘in detail’ to the Indian Foreign Secretary Shringla, the relationship between Sri Lanka and China so as to allay any concerns the big neighbour would have over the growing Sino Lanka ties’, authoritative sources said.

The Indian envoy had thanked the President for the reassurances and comprehensive update on this front.

Highlighting the centuries-old bonds, the President elaborated that Sri Lanka - India ties must be raised up to the level of 1960s and 70s era.

Both had agreed that long and short term steps to bring two countries closer together should be identified for action immediately. Recalling the 1971 proposal made by Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike to declare the Indian Ocean a peace zone, President Rajapaksa highlighted the importance of India’s assistance in making it a reality.

Oil Tank farm

The discussions between the President and Indian Foreign Secretary revolved around Trincomalee oil tank farm, Chinese relations, revival of bi-lateral tourism, fisheries issues, new direct flights to the Kushinagar Buddhist pilgrimage site and implementation of the 13th Amendment.

It was revealed that the inaugural direct flight to Kushinagar international airport will depart from Sri Lanka on October 20.

The Indian envoy reiterated India’s position on complete implementation of the provisions under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, including devolution of powers and the holding of Provincial Council elections at the earliest.

The President, in response, said that there was an urgent need to understand the weaknesses as well as the strengths of the 13th Amendment and act accordingly.

He said the people of both countries should be kept abreast of the developments towards a final agreement for which the consent of the majority is vital for it to be a sustainable and a viable solution.

Disclosing that 90 percent of the land occupied by the military during the conflict had been returned to their rightful owners, President Rajapaksa told Indian Foreign Secretary Shringla that the Government hopes to make a conducive environment for Tamils who left the country during the war, to return to Sri Lanka.

He recalled of his open invitation at the UN General Assembly, to the Tamil Diaspora and Tamils living abroad to extend support to make the Government’s efforts in this regard a success.

Terrorist battle

The President also referred to the development work taking place in the North and East since the end of the LTTE-terrorist battle, and the progress of the Office of Missing Persons and the reparations process, and revealed that release of more LTTE prisoners are to be implemented shortly.

On the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm issue, the President said the Minister in charge had been instructed to work out a plan which will be beneficial to both countries.

Before the meeting wrapped up President Rajapaksa extended an invitation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to undertake a state visit to Sri Lanka while the Indian Foreign Secretary commended Sri Lanka’s state vaccination drive and the Covid-19 response.

Secretary to the President P. B. Jayasundera and Principal Advisor to the President Lalith Weeratunga also took part in the meeting.

The previous morning, the Indian Foreign Secretary called on Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa at Temple Trees. The discussions rallied round consolidating the multifaceted Indo -Lanka ties, a release from the Prime Minister’s office said. The Premier appreciated Prime Minister Modi’s initiative to promote Buddhist ties. Secretary Shringla said it was a priority area of Prime Minister Modi.

Last year, during the virtual bilateral summit between the two Premiers, the Indian PM announced a $15 million grant for the promotion of Buddhist ties that aimed to deepen people-to-people linkages between the two countries.

Cabinet Ministers

After the meeting, he took part in a virtual event at the Temple Trees to hand over four projects in the education and housing sectors, jointly with Foreign Minister Prof. G. L.Peiris and several other Cabinet Ministers and MPs. The projects which included handing over of 1059 houses mostly for the estate sector and 24 at Menik Farm in Vavuniya, completed under Indian development cooperation funding. Foreign Secretary Shringla who was once the Joint Secretary at the Ministry of External Affairs for several countries including Sri Lanka had a bigger role to play in planning most of the on going Indian funded projects in Sri Lanka. ‘So his visit was in a way to see the progress of his work,’ official sources said the Sunday Observer.

Earlier, he garlanded the Gandhi bust at the Temple Trees to pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi on his 152nd birth anniversary.

He also met Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa where the two officials discussed post pandemic economic revival through joint projects of mutual benefit. The Indian investment in pharmaceutical and IT sectors in the economic zones were also highlighted.

The official bilateral talks between the Indian Foreign Secretary and the Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary were held at the Republic Building on Monday. The talks covered a wide range of political, economic, security and cultural matters.

Both sides acknowledged the importance of enhancing connectivity between the two countries, especially the sea connectivity through ferry services as well as connectivity via air, electricity grid, and digital connectivity.

Political solution

During his stay here, the top Indian envoy, met the TNA, TPA and CWC politicians where the Tamil party’s concerns for a political solution and issues of the estate Tamils were reviewed.

The Indian envoy who arrived in the country on Saturday night, commenced his tour the next morning, from the Temple of Tooth in Kandy where he sought blessings for both countries. He then proceeded to Trincomalee to inspect the oil tanks, the subject of deep controversy lately.

The Government said a decision to hand over the rest of the tanks in the facility was not taken during the current visit of the Indian foreign secretary. In Trincomalee, the envoy inaugurated a new LIOC engine oil for new generation diesel engines.