New Delhi: India on Monday urged Sri Lanka for the early return of Indian fishermen held in its jails and also stressed on the need for Colombo to stand by its commitment not to dilute the 13th Amendment on devolution of powers to provinces.
This was emphasized during the meeting of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with visiting Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister GL Peiris in Delhi.
Peiris, who arrived in Delhi on Sunday evening, handed over to the prime minister a letter of invitation from President Mahinda Rajapaksa to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) Summit being held in Colombo in Nov 15-17. He conveyed that the Sri Lankan government looks forward to Manmohan Singh`s participation.
Tamil Nadu parties, the DMK and AIADMK, have urged India not to participate in the event to protest alleged human rights violations by Colombo against the Tamils.
Peiris and the prime minister also discussed issues related to the Northern Provincial Council elections being held September 21. Manmohan Singh said he was happy to take note of the elections.
He said the election "would promote the cause of reconciliation and he hoped that the elections would be free, fair and credible", said official sources.
"Prof Peiris responded that there was a vigorous election campaign underway. There were 350 candidates from nine political parties contesting. He assured that the elections would be conducted in a free and fair manner. He also mentioned that international observers from the Commonwealth and SAARC have been invited," said the sources.
India also took up the issue of the arrest of Indian fishermen with Sri Lanka.
On August 7, India had summoned the Sri Lankan high commissioner and lodged a formal protest against the custody of over 100 Indian fishermen in the island nation.
Manmohan Singh emphasized "on the need for expeditious return of Indian fishermen as has been the process followed by both sides in the recent past. He emphasized the need to treat this as a humanitarian issue," said the sources.
Peiris expressed the necessity to find a practical solution to the issue and said Colombo had taken to a "deterrent mechanism" with regard to fishermen which involves apprehending fishermen, producing them in court and charging a fine.
"There is no intention whatsoever to harass or oppress fishermen or keep them in custody for long periods. Due care will always be given to treating fishermen in a humane manner," he assured.
Manmohan Singh also stressed "on the need that Sri Lanka would stand by the commitment not to dilute the 13th Amendment and would take it forward".
Peiris said that Sri Lanka is in compliance with its obligations in terms of the Indo-Lanka Accord which includes specific provisions on linguistic and cultural aspects. In this context he referred to the Tamil language being given its due place.
The 13th Amendment of the Sri Lankan constitution, carried out with Indian backing in 1987, aims to ensure autonomy to provinces and by extension to the Tamils in the island`s north.
Later the Sri Lankan foreign minister also met External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid.