Indian envoy in Lanka visits Northern and Eastern Provinces; holds talks with Tamil leaders

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Colombo, Mar 14 (PTI) India’s top diplomat in Colombo held talks with senior Tamil leaders during his visit to the Northern and Eastern Provinces and emphasised that achieving the legitimate aspirations of the minority Tamil community through meaningful devolution within a united Sri Lanka will contribute to peace, inclusive progress and strength of the island nation.

During his three-day visit to the two provinces from March 11 to 13, High Commissioner Gopal Baglay also highlighted India’s long-standing cooperation and commitment to the development of the Northern and Eastern Provinces in accordance with the requirements of the people and priorities set by their elected representatives, the Indian High Commission here said in a statement on Sunday.

Baglay, who held a series of meetings with Tamil party leaders during his visit, recalled commitments of the Sri Lankan Government on the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil community for equality, justice, peace and dignity, it said.

He maintained that achieving them through meaningful devolution within a united Sri Lanka will also contribute to peace, reconciliation, inclusive progress and strength of the country, it added.

During his meetings, the Tamil leaders sought further assistance for infrastructural development, more economic investment and additional projects under grant assistance for development cooperation from India in the Province.

Baglay assured them of continued cooperation from India in these spheres.

His visit came in the backdrop of the Sri Lanka resolution to be moved at the UN Human Rights Council next week.

The resolution accuses Sri Lanka of war crimes with threats to take those responsible to the International Courts and impose targeted sanctions against officials allegedly responsible for human rights violations during the country’s three decade long civil war.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa also had a telephonic conversation on Saturday during which they reviewed topical developments as well as ongoing cooperation between the two countries in bilateral and multilateral forums.

The two leaders agreed to maintain regular contact between relevant officials, including in the context of the continuing COVID-19 challenges, a Prime Minister's Office statement (PMO) said in New Delhi.

Sri Lankan president's office here did not comment on the call and if India had responded favourably to Colombo’s support sought at the UNHRC.

Sri Lanka has been hoping that India would stand by it when the UNHRC moves its latest accountability and reconciliation resolution on the island nation this month.

A UN report has called for drastic measures against those allegedly responsible for rights violations during the last phase of the armed conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The Indian envoy held separate meetings with northern Tamil parties, including the current government ally Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP).

The EPDP thanked India for its consistent position on the implementation of the 13th Amendment that provides for devolution of power to the Tamil community. India has been pressing Sri Lanka to implement the 13th amendment.

The main Tamil party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the hardline parties TMTK (Tamil People's National Alliance) and Tamil National People's Front (TNPF) were all engaged in talks and they raised issues concerning the Tamil minority and urged increased Indian assistance under development cooperation.

During External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar's visit to Sri Lanka in January, India underlined backing for Lanka's reconciliation process and an 'inclusive political outlook' that encourages ethnic harmony.

Jaishankar had met the Tamil leadership and discussed issues pertaining to the development and devolution and the role of provincial councils as part of national reconciliation.

President Rajapaksa told a political gathering this week that the government would opt to conduct the postponed provincial council elections pending ascertaining public view on holding the election.

The elections to the nine councils remain due since late 2019 and were put on hold due to a legal snag over electoral system reform attempted in 2018. PTI CORR PMS ZH