India reiterates joint statement

By Our Dipomatic Editor

The Indian Government will insist on following up on the points contained in the controversial Joint Statement issued a fortnight ago following the visit of Sri Lanka's External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris to New Delhi for bi-lateral talks.

India’s position will be reiterated when the postponed visit to Colombo of a high powered delegation of Indian officials takes place late next week. National Security Adviser Shiv Shanker Menon and Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao are confirmed to comprise the Indian delegation that will hold talks with Sri Lankan leaders during their visit to Colombo. A meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa is also expected.

Indian Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar who was also due in the original delegation may not be part of the delegation as there was a likelihood of a switch in his post. There was no confirmation of whether he would be replaced by his successor should he not be coming as part of the delegation.

The fact that India wishes to follow up on the Joint Statement was told to Sri Lanka’s Opposition UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who met several Indian leaders during an official visit to New Delhi during this week. The Indian leaders whom he met, including External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Mr. Menon and Ms. Rao had stated that they want to "see progress on the Joint Statement", Mr. Wickremesinghe told the Sunday Times on his return to Colombo on Thursday.

Minister G.L. Peiris came in for some stick from pro-government nationalist forces for agreeing in the Joint Statement to what was referred to as "a devolution package building upon the 13th Amendment" which would provide for "genuine reconciliation" in Sri Lanka. He was also criticised for stating in the Joint Statement that he had "affirmed his Government's commitment to ensuring expeditious and concrete progress in the ongoing dialogue between the Government of Sri Lanka and representatives of Tamil parties".

The criticism stems from the Sri Lankan Minister referring only to a dialogue between the Government of Sri Lanka and Tamil parties in developing on the 13th Amendment leaving out other parties from the process.

The Indian leaders had told Mr. Wickremesinghe that the draft Joint Statement was shown to their Sri Lankan counterparts well in advance, and that it was not something sprung up on the visiting External Affairs Minister of Sri Lanka. They had also told Mr. Wickremesinghe that they were aware of the criticism the Joint Statement had generated in Sri Lanka.

Several other paragraphs contained in the Joint Statement have also come in for strong criticism from other quarters, one being the provisions relating to the issue of poaching by Tamil Nadu fishermen in the northern waters of Sri Lanka. The Minister had also failed to get the support of India to back Sri Lanka on the UN Secretary General's panel of experts report that made critical comments on the conduct of the war against the LTTE during the last stages in May 2009.

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