SL Prez meets Singh, assures on ethnic issue

Rajapaksa assured Manmohan Singh that he would hold dialogue with a "broader spectrum" of stakeholders to address the Tamil issue.

Last Updated: Oct 16, 2010, 00:21 AM IST

New Delhi: With India insisting that it was time for Sri Lanka to act decisively to "win over" ethnic minority, President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Friday assured Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that he would hold dialogue with a "broader spectrum" of stakeholders to address the Tamil issue.

Rajapaksa updated Singh on the process of rehabilitation and resettlement of Tamils displaced due to the war and sought India`s cooperation in various sectors like education, agriculture and commerce during a luncheon meeting. Singh hosted lunch to Rajapaksa and appreciated his attendance at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games
as chief guest.

The Sri Lankan leader told Singh that the country was able to resettle over 2.5 lakh displaced civilians to their towns and villages in just 15 months after the end of the war
and only 20,000 people are still lodged in camps.

"It was a very cordial meeting. No issue was discussed at length, but India wanted to know our plans (on resolving the ethnic crisis). We indicated that... we want to talk to a
broader spectrum of stakeholders as possible. That is the only way to do this, to get their ideas and to build a consensus," Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G L Peiris told reporters tonight.

He said Rajapaksa had held two rounds of talks with the Tamil National Alliance, which was considered as the political outfit of the now vanquished LTTE, and will meet its
leader R Sampanthan, who had just returned home after a visit to Chennai for medical reasons, very soon.

Asked about the devolution of powers, Peiris said Sri Lanka was committed to implement the 13th amendment except one aspect of it and will continue to hold dialogue with all
stakeholders.

Peiris` comments came as External Affairs Minister S M Krishna said that he had told him that since Presidential elections and all other polls had concluded, it was "now time
to act decisively to win over Tamil speaking Sri Lankans so that their concerns were taken care of adequately".

Sources from the Indian side said the meeting, in which Home Minister P Chidambaram also participated, was very cordial and the prime minister got an update of the rehabilitation activities in Sri Lanka.

The issue of opening Indian consulates in Jaffna and Hambantota also came up during the discussions, they said. Peiris said he also held "very cordial" discussions with HRD Minister Kapil Sibal and Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and sought their cooperation in respective fields.

Asked about whether apprehensions in India that Sri Lanka is more dependent on China than New Delhi were misplaced, he said, "I think they are. China is not the only
country which is supporting us. There are many countries which are helping us and we need their support."

"We have the best of relations with India. That is more than evident from the tenor and substance of the discussion that took place in Delhi." Peiris said Rajapaksa had already started discussions with political parties for finding a solution to the Tamil questions and the government will continue to do so in getting ideas and insights from various sections of the society.

Asked whether he can given any time frame for solving the issue, Peiris said it was not possible to give time frame for such issues as giving one will give rise to "speculation".
He also said a "democratic leadership" should evolve among Tamils in Sri Lanka as there is a "hiatus" right now.

"Many Tamils leaders were thrown up or wiped out by people. And many leaders were assassinated. So there should be a new leadership," he said.

PTI