Colombo: In a top-level visit that came after 28 years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday reached out to Sri Lanka saying the security of the two countries is “indivisible” and favoured a life of equality, justice and dignity for Tamils in its “new journey” of peace and reconciliation.
The first prime minister to visit the island after Rajiv Gandhi’s trip in 1987 after which the bilateral relationship had undergone several twists and turns, he said the two nations should build a climate of trust and confidence while remaining sensitive to each other’s interests.
Modi met President Maithripala Sirisena and expressed his “admiration” for his efforts to build an inclusive future for Sri Lanka.
However, he made it clear that “unity and integrity” of Sri Lanka, which fought a three decades war with the LTTE over its demand for a separate Tamil Eelam, “are paramount” for India.
“It is rooted in our interest. It stems from our own fundamental beliefs in this principle,” he declared in his address to Sri Lankan Parliament.
The Prime Minister said a future of prosperity required a strong foundation of security for the two countries and peace and stability in the region.
“The security of our two countries is indivisible. Equally, our shared responsibility for our maritime neighbourhood is clear,” Modi said.
“India and Sri Lanka are too close to look away from each other. Nor can we be insulated from one another,” he said.
Maintaining that the Indian Ocean is critical to the security and prosperity of the two countries, the Prime Minister said, “we can be more successful in achieving these goals if work together; build a climate of trust and confidence; and, remain sensitive to each other’s interest.
“We deeply value our security cooperation with Sri Lanka. We should expand the maritime security cooperation between India, Sri Lanka and Maldives to include others in the Indian Ocean area.
He said the two countries were at the crossroads of the Indian Ocean. The partnership will be vital for building a peaceful, secure, stable and prosperous maritime neighbourhood.
The two leaders met at delegation level after which four agreements that included easing of visa regulations were signed.
Reflecting their desire to give a push to their economic ties, the two countries also took steps to simplify trade and reduce non-tariff barriers on both sides under an agreement on customs cooperation.
At a joint press meet later, the Prime Minister himself referred to the significance of his visit, saying it “helps us understand each other better, finds solution to mutual concerns and move our relationship forward.”
On his part, President Sirisena said, “We have seen the weakening of links between the two countries at different times of rule (in both countries). This is the reason why it took 28 years for an Indian PM to visit Sri Lanka.”
Voicing India’s support to efforts to build a future that accommodates the aspirations of all societies including Tamils for a life of equality, justice, peace and dignity in a united Lanka, the Prime Minister said, “We believe that early and full implementation of the 13th Amendment and going beyond it would contribute to this process.”
Modi, who had discussed the fishermen’s issue – a major irritant in bilateral ties – with Sirisena, said this complex question involves livelihood and humanitarian concerns on both sides.
“This complex issue involves livelihood and humanitarian concerns on both sides. We should handle it from this perspective. At the same time, we need to find a long term solution to this issue,” he said in remarks that assumes significance following Premier Ranil Wikcremasinghe’s controversial statement last week that intruding Indian fishermen would be shot by Sri Lankan Navy.
India has already conveyed its displeasure over the remarks when External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Colombo last week.
Modi suggested that fishermen’s associations of India and Sri Lanka should meet at the earliest to find a mutually acceptable arrangement. It can then be taken forward by both governments.
In his address to Parliament, Modi said, “Sri Lanka has lived through decades of tragic violence and conflict. You have successfully defeated terrorism and brought the conflict to an end.
“You now stand at a moment of historic opportunity to win the hearts and heal the wounds across all sections of society.”
Noting that recent elections in Sri Lanka have reflected the collective voice of the nation – the hope for change, reconciliation and unity, he said the steps that the government has taken in recent times were bold and admirable.
“They represent a new beginning. I am confident of a future of Sri Lanka, defined by unity and integrity; peace and harmony; and, opportunity and dignity for everyone. I believe in Sri Lanka’s ability to achieve it,” Modi said to thumping of desk from MPs.
Modi also announced a fresh line of credit of USD 318 million and an enhanced currency swap agreement besides offering Indian assistance to develop Trincomalee town as a petroleum hub.
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