Speculation rife over visit of high-level Indian delegation

By Rohan Abeywardene

A high-level Indian delegation was here to thrash out issues that are of relevance to both countries and the visit is not directed at addressing any single issue, The Sunday Times learns.

There has been no official public comment from either side about the unannounced two-day visit which began on Friday but there has been speculation that it was related to the country’s national issue.
Sources said no sooner India’s national Security Advisor M. K. Narayanan, Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and Defence Secretary Vijay Singh arrived here they had a discussion with an equally formidable team from Sri Lanka at the Defence Ministry. The Sri Lankan team comprised Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Presidential Advisor and MP Basil Rajapaksa and Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga.

A top government source said the latest discussions were a continuation of the close dialogue between the two countries on issues relevant to both countries. Late last year the same Lankan team that held discussions with the visiting Indian officials on Friday visited New Delhi and held similar high level discussions.

Following the exchange at the Defence Ministry between the two sides, the Indian officials also met heads of the security forces, the police and other top officials at a dinner hosted by the Central Bank Governor at the highly guarded Central Bank Headquarterss in Fort.

Sources said on Friday, the Indians also met Ceylon Workers’ Congress Leader and Minister Arumugam Thondaman. But Mr. Thondaman told The Sunday Times his meeting was merely a courtesy call and nothing more.

Yesterday, the visiting top bureaucrats had a breakfast meeting with EPDP Leader and Minister Douglas Devananda. Also present at the one-hour breakfast discussion had been Indian High CommissionerAlok Prasad and the Head of the Sri Lanka Desk in the Indian Foreign Ministry.
Mr. Devananda said the visit of the Indian team had two objectives in his opinion. Firstly it was in connection with the forthcoming SAARC summit, which would be attended by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and secondly it was a firsthand fact-finding mission as to what was happening here. “I gave my view of the situation – the past, the present and the future and they gave me a patient hearing,” he said.

The EPDP leader said he told the Indian delegation that the Provincial Council system, which he had always insisted upon to serve the Tamil people, had now been given a rebirth with the holding of the Eastern Province election and things were going forward in a practical way. The appointment of a task force to develop the North, with him as its head, was the interim administration he had called for.
“I asked for assistance to take the development process forward and they agreed to take serious note of my request”.

Mr. Devananda said “I may be the bridge between the North and the South and between India and Sri Lanka”.

At noon the Indian team met TNA parliamentary group leader R. Sambandan. The TNA leader is reported to have presented a long list of grievances. These included displacement of tens of thousands of civilians in the nort, of civilian casualties by artillery fire and air strikes, extra judicial executions and enforced disappearances.

Mr. Sambandan said the Indian officials listened to his case carefully. He said he had also spotlighted the increasing involvement of countries such as Pakistan and China in Sri Lanka’s affairs and the image the government of Sri Lanka was creating that India was with them.

They had told him India would never let the Tamil people down, it was concerned with the wellbeing of the Tamil people and it saw the importance of the permanent merger of the North and East.

India for political solution: Report

The high-powered Indian delegation led by National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan, which held talks with President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday, expressed hope that Sri Lanka would find a political solution and eschew military solutions to the conflict in the north, the Hindustan Times quoted an Indian government official as saying.

"India hopes that Sri Lanka can find a peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict within the framework of united Sri Lanka, acceptable to all the communities. There are no military solutions," a senior Indian government official told Indian journalists in Colombo.

Describing the visit as "constructive and successful", the senior official said that the consultations centred "on issues of mutual interest as is usual between the two close and friendly neighbours".

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