Sri Lanka’s external affairs minister, Mangala Samaraweera, has been urged by his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj to ensure the “political reconciliation” of the country’s Tamil population, during the first talks between the two governments since Sri Lanka’s presidential elections.
Mr Samaraweera also met with Prime Minister Modi, who congratulated the new Sri Lankan government on its election victory and expressed hope that President Sirisena’s victory will advance peace, reconciliation and development in Sri Lanka, and peace and progress in the region.
The prime minister extended India`s continued support and partnership to Sri Lanka's government and its people in realising their aspirations and thanked President Maithripala Sirisena for accepting his invitation to visit India later this year.
Stating that “even a few steps can clearly indicate one’s direction”, Mr Modi expressed his admiration for the new leadership`s vision of a “truly Sri Lankan government”, inclusive of all voices, and praised the initial steps taken government for political reconciliation, inclusiveness and participation.
Minister Samaraweera on Sunday held "substantive" talks on a range of issues with India’s external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, including political and economic cooperation, the repatriation of Tamil refugees and the fishermen dispute.
"Today's talks have been marked by warmth, mutual respect and an understanding between India and Sri Lanka and the substantive outcome demonstrated the desire of both countries to give a boost to our bilateral ties," India's external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said to media after the 3-hour meeting on Sunday.
"The talks included areas of cooperation on political and economic sphere, the political reconciliation process in Sri Lanka and efforts of the new government in this regard," he said, adding that the countries had decided to commence talks on the repatriation of Tamil refugees.
“India and Sri Lanka have decided to re-engage on the issue of repatriation of refugees currently in India. The talks between officials on this matter will begin before the end of this month,” he said.
According to the Sri Lankan government's official news site, both sides also agreed to move ahead with the stalled Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between India and Sri Lanka, which the Rajapaksa-government, at the behest of politicians and nationalist groups, was reluctant to sign.
Responding to media questions on the demilitarisation of Sri Lanka's North-East Mr Akbaruddin said the Indian government's view on the issue was well known and asked to allow time for the Sri Lanka government to articulate its views on the subject.
"Please allow them (Sri Lanka) to articulate their views. And you will see that we are working together with Sri Lanka on this matter as on a host of other things. But at this stage, five days [in office], even by your standards is a little too early to judge," he said, adding that India and Sri Lanka discussed all issues as friendly neighbours aiming at "enhancing our ties and improving them qualitatively."
"Sri Lanka is an important neighbour, a friendly neighbour, a neighbour which has shown great understanding towards us," he said.
Mr Samaraweera told media he looked forward to “close coordination” with India and invited both Ms Swaraj and Prime Minister Modi to visit Sri Lanka.
Ahead of his visit, the Sri Lankan government, as a gesture of “goodwill”, initiated procedures to release all Indian fishermen and boats held in the country.
“This will be done within the next few days,” Minister Samaraweera said ahead of the meeting. “We need a clean slate to begin with. We have moved over various difficulties before.”
“The fact that as Foreign Minister I have undertaken my first overseas visit to India signifies the importance that President Sirisena’s government places on strengthening and improving bilateral ties with India,” Mr. Samaraweera told The Hindu.