Distinguished representatives of the media, I am happy to lead the All-Party delegation of Parliamentarians from India on this important visit to Sri Lanka. We are happy to meet you and share our impressions from this visit. I would like to start by introducing my colleagues from the delegation.
2. The purpose of our visit was to see for ourselves the progress made in Sri Lanka since the end of the armed conflict in May 2009. We wanted to interact with a wide cross-section of political parties, members of civil society and the public at large, and get a sense of the situation, especially with regard to rehabilitation, resettlement and the way forward to achieving a lasting and broad-based peace in Sri Lanka.
3. As you are aware, India has been unstinting in its assistance in supporting efforts to resettle and rehabilitate internally displaced persons in Sri Lanka and to reconstruct the infrastructure and facilities of northern Sri Lanka. In this context, we also wanted to get a first-hand glimpse of the status of the development projects being implemented with India’s assistance in different parts of Sri Lanka, and the impact they were having on the ground.
4. My delegation and I had the opportunity to call on His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa this morning. We had extensive discussions with several Ministers, the Leader of the Opposition, key leaders of major political parties, Members of Parliament and representatives of civil society. We travelled to different parts of Sri Lanka, a fact that testifies to the pan-Island footprint of our engagement with this country. Our immediate focus, however, was on the North and the East, as they recover from the trauma of nearly three decades of armed conflict.
5. We have noted the improved situation regarding the resettlement of IDPs. However, a significant number of them continue to be in transit situations or with host families. Our task will not be complete until they return to their original homes. Similarly, while there has been substantial progress in the area of rehabilitation and reconstruction, a lot remains to be done. We are prepared to assist in whatever way possible, in a spirit of partnership and cooperation.
6. The end of the armed conflict has provided a historic opportunity for moving towards national reconciliation and political settlement. The report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) has underlined this and has made a number of constructive recommendations for addressing issues related to healing the wounds of the conflict and fostering a process of lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. It is important that these are pursued with a sense of urgency. This is the message we have conveyed to our Sri Lankan friends during the course of this visit.
7. Our discussions over the last four days have brought out clearly the need for expeditious implementation of the measures proposed by the LLRC with regard to information on missing persons and detainees, investigation of cases of disappearances and abductions, promotion of a trilingual policy, reduction of high security zones, return of private lands by the military and demilitarization, including phasing out of the involvement of the security forces in civilian activities and restoration of civilian administration in the Northern Province. We have noted the assurance given by the Government of Sri Lanka in Parliament that it will ensure the withdrawal of security forces from community life and confine their role to security matters.
8. Above all, it is our sincere hope that the Government of Sri Lanka will seize this window of opportunity and follow an enlightened approach to reach a genuine political reconciliation, based on a meaningful devolution of powers, which takes into account the legitimate needs of the Tamil people for equality, dignity, justice and self-respect. We have been assured in the past that this will be done within the framework of “Thirteenth Amendment – Plus”. We would urge the Government of Sri Lanka and other stakeholders, including the Tamil National Alliance, to resume dialogue and move towards an early political settlement. We would earnestly suggest urgent consultations to create conditions for launching of the Parliamentary Select Committee.
9. During our stay in Sri Lanka, we were able to visit several of sites of Indian-aided projects, including railway projects in the North and the South, the housing project, Kankesanthurai Harbour, and some of the schools, hospitals and vocational training centres being revived with our assistance. We were happy to witness the handover of some of the completed projects. Several others are on track to be completed in the coming months. These projects gave us some satisfaction that India’s assistance, especially in the areas of humanitarian assistance, temporary shelter, housing, de-mining, education and vocational training, public health, connectivity, and revival of agriculture and other livelihood activities, has been able to make a difference to the lives of the people.
10. These projects serve to underline India’s commitment, as a stakeholder in peace, stability and harmony in Sri Lanka, to addressing the pressing needs of the war-affected people and the restoration of normalcy to their lives.
11. We are happy to note that our relations are moving ahead in a comprehensive manner. It is a relationship based on deep civilizational and cultural bonds and shared interests. As a close and friendly neighbour, we have strong stakes in the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and in the preservation of peace, harmony and prosperity of this country. We are committed to taking the relationship forward.
12. As India and Sri Lanka are immediate neighbours with an extensive interface, there are naturally some bilateral issues that need to be addressed, for example, the issue of fishermen. I would like to emphasize that this is an emotive issue which must be handled with care on both sides. As we explore possible solutions, both sides must ensure that there is no use of force against the fishermen and that they are treated in a humane manner. We were happy to learn that the Joint Working Group on Fisheries which met in January this year was able to look at various options to address this issue in a larger framework. We hope the fishermen on both sides can meet again and talk directly to each other.
13. India and Sri Lanka are bound by ties of history, geography and culture. Our partnership must therefore progress in the spirit of being the closest of neighbours and friends whose destinies are intertwined. As democracies, we understand that we may occasionally have differences but these will be dealt with through dialogue and on the basis of mutual respect. I am confident that our shared heritage and common interests will take us forward together.
II. “Unreasonable’’ to expect govt to move trops out of the north, says President Rajapaksa,… Shamindra Ferdinando reporting in the Sunday Island, 22 April 2012
President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday asserted that it would be unreasonable to expect his government to move troops out of the Northern Province in spite of the conclusion of the conflict in May three years ago. The Commander-in-Chief emphasized that troops had been deployed across the country and it wouldn’t be feasible to shift troops currently deployed in the Northern Province. “Can I send them to India,” the President queried in response to the visiting Indian parliamentary delegation expressing concern over the post-war deployment of GoSL forces in the Northern Province.
The President met the delegation along with Indian High Commissioner in Colombo, Ashok Kantha at Temple Trees at the conclusion of its weeklong visit. The President said that troops were based at designated positions, while stressing the deployment was in Sri Lanka and not on foreign soil.
Since the end of war, the government has released substantial section of land previously held by the military, in both provinces. Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told The Sunday Island that the civilians would never have been able to use their land as long as the LTTE remained in power. Unfortunately, those critical of the GoSL had even conveniently forgotten perhaps our biggest achievement – putting an end to use of children as cannon fodder.
Much to the surprise of the GoSL delegation, a member of the visiting delegation suggested the deployment of troops in civilian attire in a bid to address concerns of the public. SLFP Batticaloa District organizer and the only son of slain EPRLF MP, Sam Tambimuttu promptly pointed out if troops moved out in civvies they would be accused of undercover activities. Tambimuttu strongly opposed the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which President Rajapaksa quite bluntly said was imposed by the then Government of India.
In an obvious reference to the July 1987 Indo-Lanka Peace Accord, the President said that the then President JRJ went ahead with what was forced on the GoSL. During the deliberations, the President made two important points, government sources told The Sunday Island. The President stressed that the Tamil National Alliance couldn’t be accepted as the sole representative of the Tamil Speaking people and he wouldn’t do away with the proposed Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on the national issue. The TNA has repeatedly refused to join the PSC accusing the government of adopting dilatory tactics, a charge denied by External Affairs Minister, Prof. G. L. Peiris on numerous occasions.
The President said that Minister Arumugam Thondaman wouldn’t be comfortable with land powers vested with the Central Provincial Council, while Tambimuttu asserted that the needs of the people of the Eastern Province would be at stake if the government went ahead with the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Tambimuttu reminded the Indian delegation that over 50 per cent of the Tamil population lived outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
The President questioned the feasibility of the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, though there were calls to implement it.
III. “Mahinda assures visiting Indian MP’s of his commitment to 13th Amendment Plus” … Zacki Jabbar in SundayIsland 22 April 2012
The visiting 12-member all party Indian parliamentary delegation said yesterday that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had assured them that he was committed to implementing ‘13th Amendment Plus’, as a means to resolving Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue. The head of the delegation and the country’s Opposition leader, Sushma Swaraj was addressing the media in Colombo, at the conclusion of their four day fact finding mission on the progress made in Sri Lanka, since the end of the armed conflict in May 2009.They had toured various parts of Sri Lanka, including the North and East over the last four days.
Asked, about earlier claims by the Sri Lankan government that it had not assured India of implementing ‘13th Amendment Plus’, she replied ” Your President told us this morning that he would devolve power in terms of 13th Amendment Plus”. “Its our sincere hope that the Sri Lankan government will seize this window of opportunity and follow an enlightened approach to reach a genuine political reconciliation, based on meaningful devolution of power, which takes into account the legitimate needs of the Tamil people for equality, dignity, justice and self-respect”,Swaraj said adding that they had been assured in the past as well, that it would be done within the framework of Thirteenth Amendment Plus.
The Indian delegation leader urged all stakeholders including the Tamil National Alliance, to resume dialogue and move towards an early political settlement to the ethnic issue,through the Parliamentary Select Committee process . There need not be any inhibitions, since all Tamil political parties are agreeable to devolution within a united Sri Lanka,she said while noting that they spoke with a clear mind, having met representatives of all political parties and civil societies in the North,South,East and West.
Explaining the purpose of their visit, Swaraj said that they wanted to see for themselves the progress made in Sri Lanka since the end of the armed conflict in May 2009.
IV. “TNA’s recalcitrance, a setback,” …. P. Krishnaswamy in Sunday Observer, 22 april 2012
President Mahinda Rajapaksa assured the multi-party Indian Parliamentary delegation at a meeting yesterday morning at Temple Trees that a solution to the grievances of people in the North and the East would certainly be offered. However, the TNA’s refusal to take part in the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSA) talks was delaying the process, leader of the delegation and Indian Lok Sabha Opposition leader Shushma Swaraj told a media briefing in Colombo.
Their 12-member delegation which had earlier met the TNA had persuaded them to take part in the PSA talks, she said. At their meeting its leader R.Sampanthan told the delegation that he was proud to be a Sri Lankan, honoured her sovereignty and sought a solution within a unitary and undivided Sri Lanka, she said.
Explaining as to why India voted for the US-sponsored resolution at the Geneva UNHRC sessions last month, Ms Swaraj said that the LLRC is Sri Lanka’s own report and voting for a resolution insisting on its implementation cannot be considered as speaking against Sri Lanka. Although there may be differences occasionally, India and Sri Lanka are bound by historical, geographical and cultural ties.
The partnership of the two countries must progress in the spirit of being the closest of neighbours and friends whose destinies are intertwined, she said.
The fishermen’s issue was emotive and must be handled with care by both sides, Ms Swaraj said. The Joint Working Group on Fisheries which met in January this year looked at various options to address this issue in a larger framework, she said.
During their visit to the Northern province the delegation observed that roads and infrastructure are being built and water supply and other livelihood facilities are being provided, she said.
Five of her 12-member delegation represented Tamil Nadu , although the Tamil Nadu ruling AIADMK, which had requested for the delegation, and the opposition DMK did not join the delegation for reasons best known to them.
A member of the delegation, N.S.V. Chittan, Indian National Congress (INC) Lok Sabha Member representing Tamil Nadu told the Sunday Observer that they were convinced that much headway has been made with regard to resettlement, rehabilitation and provision of infrastructure and livelihood facilities in the Northern province.
He visited the Northern province with an Indian delegation some months ago and had observed positive changes with regard to the Tamil people.
They had interacted with a wide cross-section of political parties, members of civil society and the public at large and got a sense of the situation, especially with regard to rehabilitation, resettlement and the way forward to achieving a lasting and broad based peace in Sri Lanka”she said while observing that their immediate focus was on the North and the East, as they recover from the trauma of nearly three decades of armed conflict.
While admitting that there has been an improvement in the resettlement of Internally Displaced People, Swaraj noted that a significant number of them continue to be in transit situations or with host families. “Our task will not be complete until the IDP’s return to their original homes.” Substantial progress has been made in the area of rehabilitation and reconstruction but a lot remains to be done, she said while expressing their willingness to assist in whatever way possible, in a spirit of partnership and cooperation.
V. Indian delegation commends Govt’s rehabilitation program …. by Uditha KUMARASINGHE
Irrigation and Water Management Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said that the Indian Parliamentary delegation which held discussions with him at the Parliamentary complex on Tuesday commended the rehabilitation and resettlement process carried out by the Government and also endorsed the economic empowerment and development going on apace in the North and the East.
The delegation said they were fully satisfied with the rehabilitation and resettlement process initiated by the Government. Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa also briefed them on the progress of the rehabilitation and resettlement program. The delegation which toured the North on Wednesday had themselves witnessed the development program launched by the government, the Minister told the Sunday Observer.
The Minister said that they had one-on-one discussions with the Indian Parliamentary delegation. The delegation members were keen on clarifying certain issues and the ground realities. “We also told them very frankly about our problems. The government maintains that no country can dictate to us as to what we should do. It is entirely up to Sri Lanka to decide on what should be done. We explained certain matters to them and they also explained some of the issues they were concerned with. The discussions were conducted in a very cordial manner and there was no compulsion,” he said.
Minister de Silva said that the UPFA Government is a coalition. Whatever devolution to be embarked upon and its final outcome has to be arrived at through consensus. It cannot be done unilaterally. The SLFP alone cannot offer a solution. It has to be discussed with the Opposition and other UPFA coalition partners.
The TNA is not the sole representative of the Tamils. There are also Tamil politicians such as Douglas Devananda and Arumugam Thondaman. Nearly 54 percent of the Tamils live outside Colombo and also outside the North and the East.
“We should not concentrate only on Tamils in the North and the East, but those who live in the South as well. They are not asking for devolution or political solution. They are quite happy to live with our Sinhala and Muslim brethren without any problem. Hence I told the Indian delegation that this is the ground reality in the country and asked them not to be misled by propaganda. We are a proud nation and we have no ethnic problem as such. We are not discriminating against any ethnic group.” he said.
Even within the Tamil community itself, there are lots of differences between Batticaloa Tamils and Jaffna Tamils which we don’t have towards the Tamils. “We will have to be aware of the ground realities of the situation, the Minister said.
VI. Indian Delegation Reminds MR Of Assurances Given … by Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema in Sunday Leader, 22 April 2012
Leader of the Indian opposition Sushma Swaraj and the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo Ashok K. Kantha discuss some fine points just before the commencement of a press conference in Colombo yesterday. Pic by Thusitha Kumara
The 12 member Indian parliamentary delegation that visited the country last week said that healing the wounds of the conflict and fostering a process of lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka should be pursued with a sense of urgency.
Head of the Indian parliamentary delegation and Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj also called for the implementation of the recommendations made by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
“The end of the armed conflict has provided a historic opportunity for moving towards national reconciliation and political settlement. The report of the LLRC has underlined this and has made a number of constructive recommendations for addressing issues related to healing the wounds of the conflict and fostering a process of lasting
peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka,” she told reporters at a press conference in Colombo yesterday at the conclusion of the five day visit.
Swaraj observed that the Indian delegation had emphasized at every meeting during their visit the need to formulate a political settlement.
She explained that the delegation reminded President Mahinda Rajapaksa during their meeting with him yesterday about the assurances given by him on power devolution.
She also noted that the President was reminded of his assurance of going beyond the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
“But the political solution is a stalemate. It has to be broken,” she said. “The President said that he cannot bring the parties by force to reach a political settlement, but I said that the parties should be brought together by persuasion,” Swaraj noted.
The leader of the Indian delegation said all political parties including the TNA should resume talks to bring about a political settlement. The Opposition Leader also focused on the issues of missing persons, detainees, investigation of cases of disappearances and abductions.
“Our discussions over the last four days have brought out clearly the need for expeditious implementation of the measures proposed by the LLRC with regard to information on missing persons and detainees, investigation of cases of disappearances and abductions,
promotion of a trilingual policy, reduction of high security zones, return of private lands by the military and demilitarization, including phasing out of the involvement of the security forces in civilian activities and restoration of civilian administration in the
Northern Province,” she said.
Referring to the resettlement process in the North, Swaraj noted that while there has been substantial progress in the area of rehabilitation and reconstruction, a lot remains to be done. She said that the task in the hands of the Indians would not be complete until the people return to their original homes.