India, SL sign 7 pacts; discuss resettlement of Tamils

India and Sri Lanka on Wednesday inked seven pacts, ranging from security to development.

Last Updated: Jun 09, 2010, 23:55 PM IST

New Delhi: India and Sri Lanka today inked
seven pacts, ranging from security to development, and
discussed steps being taken to rehabilitate displaced Tamils,
a process which New Delhi wants to be expedited.

During wide-ranging talks here, Sri Lankan President
Mahinda Rajapaksa briefed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about
his government`s efforts to resettle nearly three lakh Tamils
displaced due to the war with LTTE.

Singh is understood to have emphasised on speeding up
the process of resettlement and devolution of political powers
to ethnic Tamils.

The two leaders also discussed a host of bilateral and
international issues, including an expansion of economic ties,
energy security and increased cooperation in areas of
development and counter-terrorism.

After the meeting, seven pacts were signed to boost
bilateral cooperation across a range of areas, including
security, power, railways and cultural exchange.

Two MoUs were inked on the transfer of sentenced persons
and mutual legal assistance in criminal matters that aim at
enhancing security cooperation between the two countries.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) on interconnecting
electricity grids of the two countries could mean supply of
1,000 MW of power that will go a long way in improving the
situation in Sri Lanka which continues to suffer due to
war-ravaged electricity infrastructure.

A pact on laying Talaimannar-Madhu rail link was also
signed. Increased development cooperation was reflected across
other pacts that included an MoU on special projects and
setting up of a women`s trade facilitation and community
learning centre by SEWA, an Ahmadabad-based NGO.

Rajapaksa arrived in India on a four-day visit on
Tuesday evening, his first trip after his sweeping electoral
victories in January this year.

An estimated 70,000 displaced Tamils still continue to
live in relief camps even after a year of Sri Lankan army
crushing the insurgency led by LTTE.

Although it had promised to resettle all 300,000 war
displaced within six months of defeating the LTTE, the
deadline for closure of relief camps housing the refugees has
been extended to August by the Rajapaksa government.

Briefing reporters, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said
the talks between Singh and Rajapaksa were wide-ranging and
encompassed a range of issues reflecting the multi-faceted
nature of the relationship.

"The two leaders shared their vision of the future of
India-Sri Lanka relations and agreed that President
Rajapaksa`s visit provided an opportunity to lay the
foundation for a forward-looking comprehensive agenda for
bilateral engagement," she said.

The Prime Minister emphasised that Sri Lanka`s emergence
from decades of conflict offered a historic opportunity to
spearhead an era of reconciliation where all communities can
come together to realise a political settlement.

He also observed that a meaningful devolution package,
building upon the 13th Amendment of Sri Lankan Constitution,
would create the necessary conditions for this purpose.

"In particular, the Prime Minister emphasised the need
for urgent steps to resettle the remaining IDPs (internally
displaced persons) and urged Sri Lanka to undertake speedy
rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts in the Northern and
Eastern Sri Lanka," she said.

According to officials, Rajapksa assured Singh that he
intends to move "quickly" on rehabilitation and desired an
inclusive growth. The officials also termed as "encouraging
development" the beginning of the consultation process between
the Sri Lanka President and Tamil leaders in that country.

Singh also referred to the extensive assistance being
provided by India for these efforts including Rs 500 crore as
grant and about USD 800 million as lines of credit for railway
projects.

The Foreign Secretary said India would also establish
Consulates General in Jaffna and Hambantota.

The two leaders noted the progress achieved under the
India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement and agreed that it would
be timely to build on this achievement through a more
comprehensive framework of economic cooperation. They have
directed officials to hold intensive consultations on such a
framework.

She said during the meeting, Sri Lanka has reaffirmed its
support for the candidature of India as a permanent member of
an expanded UN Security Council, as also for India`s
candidature for a non-permanent seat in the UNSC for
2011-2012.

Asked about reports that Chinese workers who are in Sri
Lanka on various projects, stay back there, officials said the
issue did come up in the meeting and Rajapaksa said these
reports were "not based on facts."

Both Singh and the Sri Lankan President also announced
a major initiative to undertake a programme of construction of
50,000 houses for internally displaced persons in Northern and
Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka which will be carried out with
Indian assistance.

India will also be taking up several projects for the
reconstruction of the North and the East, including rebuilding
of railway infrastructure, rehabilitation of Kankesanthurai
harbour and Palaly Airport, construction of a cultural centre
in Jaffna and several vocational training centres, renovation
of Duraiappah stadium and rehabilitation of war widows.

To assist setting up of the NTPC-CEB Joint Venture of 500
MW Thermal Power Plant at Trincomalee in Eastern Sri Lanka,
India will be extending a line of credit of USD 200 million
and the relevant agreements to set up the power plant will be
concluded within three months, Rao said.

To explore ways to strengthen the safety and security of
fishermen, the two sides agreed to resume the discussions
under the Joint Working Group on Fishing and promote contacts
between the fishermen`s association on both sides.

She said another significant project announced by the two
leaders was the India-Sri Lanka Knowledge Initiative, under
which India will support the University of Colombo to
establish a Centre for Contemporary Indian Studies.

PTI