Basil goes to India with bagful of documents

By Chris Kamalendran

A special emissary of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is to assure the Government of India that adequate food supplies are available for civilians in the war-torn Wanni.

This comes amidst reports that there were moves to send food stocks from India to civilians in the Wanni. There was also increasing pressure on the Indian Government by Tamil Nadu political parties which claim Sri Lankan Tamils, trapped in the fighting in the Wanni, are facing a food crisis.

This week, media reports in India quoting officials had claimed New Delhi might make available food stocks to non-governmental agencies including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for distribution to civilians in the Wanni.

Reacting to these reports, Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services Minister Rishard Bathiuddin told The Sunday Times, “our position is that we do not want outsiders to feed our people. We are capable of feeding our brothers and sisters in the Wanni. We have been doing that in the past and will continue to do so.”

However, Human Rights and Disaster Management Ministry Secretary Rajiva Wijesinha, said “this is a very positive measure from our largest neighbour and it is most welcome at this hour.”“Right now, I am unaware of the nature of the assistance or how it would be channelled either through UN relief agencies or the Government.

“Whatever channel it may be, New Delhi’s move is most encouraging,” Mr. Wijesinha added. Armed with official documents to prove large stocks of food and other essential items have been sent to the Wanni, Senior Presidential Advisor and parliamentarian Basil Rajapaksa left for New Delhi yesterday. He is scheduled to meet National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon. India’s High Commissioner Alok Prasad, who has been lining up the engagements, has also left for New Delhi to be on hand during talks.

Mr. Rajapaksa has also sought a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It is not immediately clear whether such a meeting will take place. Dr. Singh who is on a visit to Japan and China is reportedly due in New Delhi today.

Prior to departure, Mr. Rajapaksa held a series of meetings with officials on the food supply situation in the Wanni. Among those he met were Kilinochchi Government Agent N. Vedanayagan and Mullaitivu Government Agent Emelda Sukumar.

He also held talks with Social Services Minister Douglas Devananda and Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services Minister Rishard Bathiuddin. Besides civilian welfare, he discussed the repair of roads to facilitate easy movement of food supplies.

Earlier, Basil Rajapaksa was to be accompanied by Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga. However, at the time the visit by the duo was planned, there was no confirmation of dates from New Delhi.

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