Krishna calls for meaningful devolution for Tamils

By Satarupa Bhattacharjya

Reviving the Indo-Lanka Joint Commission - dormant since 2005- appears to be at the centre of Indian Foreign Minister S M Krishna’s current visit to Sri Lanka. After his arrival in Colombo last Thursday, during his interaction with the Indian media at Taj Samudra Hotel, Mr Krishna is said to have described the joint commission as a forum of two friendly nations where different facets of the bilateral relations were expected to be addressed.

“We held the meeting of the joint commission today and have reason for deep satisfaction,” Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister G L Peiris told the Sri Lankan and foreign press at the Foreign Ministry office in Colombo last Friday. Mr Peiris was addressing the media along with Mr Krishna following the seventh session of the joint commission where among other discussions, respective agreements on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters and transfer of sentenced persons between the two countries, were signed.

Indian External Affairs Minister M.S. Krishna inaugurated the Indian Consulate in Jaffna yesterday. Pic by N Parameshwaran.

At the press conference, both ministers said Friday’s meeting was useful in following up on the bilateral agenda set up by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in June this year. At the joint press conference last Friday, Mr Krishna said the joint commission would ensure that discussions between representatives of both governments during their various trips to either country are monitored and implemented. Mr Krishna also met President Rajapkasa on Friday morning. India’s Line of the Credit agreement of $416.39 million for the railway reconstruction in the north was also signed then.

According to diplomatic sources, Colombo’s intense occupation with the civil war in the recent past robbed it of the time to formally sit down with New Delhi at the joint commission before last Friday and after 2005 when the sixth session was held. The sources also said that both governments were restoring the joint commission in a bid to set time-frames for bilateral programmes to be implemented in areas of economic, trade, cultural, educational, scientific and technological cooperation.

The joint commission could also be a useful platform for discussions at the political level, the sources added. On the key question of political settlement for the island’s Tamil community, Mr Krishna reiterated the words of Prime Minister Singh (as mentioned in the joint statement of June 2010) calling for “meaningful devolution.” During his visit to Jaffna on Saturday to inaugurate the Indian consulate there, Mr Krishna said a devolution package should be worked out, based on the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution.

While at Friday’s press conference in Colombo, Mr Krishna had said that Sri Lanka now had a historical opportunity to settle the political issue in the “spirit of understanding and accommodation,” the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) seemed to wish more from New Delhi. A four-member TNA team which is expected to meet Mr Krishna today prior to his departure to India, is also likely to tell him that since the political question had not been resolved by the Rajapaksa administration even after a year and half of the war having ended, New Delhi needed to “take a proactive stance” on the matter, according to sources in the TNA.

The Indian Consulate in Jaffna

In a significant coincidence, President Rajapaksa met the association of pro-government Tamil parties called Tamil Parties’ Forum (TPF) at Temple Trees on Friday. Reports in the Sri Lankan government media said matters related to the internally displaced persons in the north were discussed. The TNA is not a member of the TPF which is led by Minister of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development, Douglas Devananda.

Although politically, the New Delhi-Colombo dialogue on devolution remained torpid, a mild breakthrough in economic cooperation seemed to have been achieved during Mr Krishna’s visit. India has been keen on moving ahead with CEPA. For the first time in a long while, a joint statement from the two governments mentioned the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). The controversial draft, placed in the bilateral backburner due to apparent reservations in a section of Sri Lanka’s political class, was discussed at the seventh session.

Following the meeting, a joint statement released by the foreign ministries of both governments on November 26, said the joint commission expressed satisfaction with the recent discussions between the officials of the Departments of Commerce of the two countries.

“The Joint Commission also took note of the stakeholders’ consultations carried out by the Sri Lankan side on the draft framework text of CEPA. It welcomed also the agreement between the officials of the Departments of Commerce of the two countries following their recent talks that, in keeping with the instructions of their respective leaders to hold intensive consultations towards a more comprehensive framework for economic cooperation, a delegation from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry of India would visit Sri Lanka on mutually convenient dates in December 2010 to resume discussions on such a framework from where they had been left in July 2008,” the joint statement said.

India’s commerce minister Anand Sharma is expected to be in Sri Lanka by year-end, diplomatic sources indicated. Also, the joint commission’s next meeting is scheduled to take place in the second half of next year in India, before which Mr Pieris is likely to visit India.

Mr Krishna’s visit to the north on Saturday inaugurated the first phase (in Ariyalai) of the 50,000 houses that will be built with Indian assistance for the IDPs. Due to incessant rains, his trip to Hambantota, to open another Indian Consulate there, was cancelled last Friday. The visit has been rescheduled for today morning.

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Krishna calls for meaningful devolution for Tamils


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