Good News and glad some frank dialogue took placeSushma Swaraj hands over railway line to Sri Lanka
Share · print · T+ Sushma asserts India is for united Sri Lanka
When a railway project built with Indian assistance was handed over to Sri Lanka at a railway station here on Thursday, it marked a departure from tradition: it was not an Indian Minister who did the honour but the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, who is leading an Indian parliamentary delegation.
The upgraded coastal railway line, costing $167.4 million, was completed ahead of schedule by an Indian public sector company, IRCON. “I am honoured to be here today to hand over the completed section of the railway track between Galle and Kauthara…Today's ceremony marks the completion of work on the Galle to Kaluthara line in a timely and smooth manner by IRCON International,” said Ms. Swaraj at the ceremony.
Work on phase-1 of the project, from Galle to Matara (42 km), commenced in September 2009 and the upgraded track was opened to traffic on February 16, 2011. The phase-2 work (Kauthara to Galle, 71 km) began in November 2010. The section will be open to traffic from April 19. The upgraded track will have a speed potential of 100 kmph.
Ms. Swaraj emphasised that India was committed to working with the government of Sri Lanka toward the consolidation of peace, prosperity and development. “We will continue to remain closely engaged with government of Sri Lanka to advance the process of rehabilitation, reconstruction and national development. We are also committed to enabling a genuine political settlement,” she said.
Ms. Swaraj earlier visited the Kankasanthurai harbour, where India has completed a $22-million wreck removal project. As many as 10 shipwrecks were removed from the harbour.
It will be fit for operations once dredging operations and construction of a breakwater are completed.
R.K. RadhakrishnanColombo must persuade TNA to join talks: Sushma
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Rajapaksa wanted to discuss issues raised in an informal atmosphere
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa welcomes Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj at his official residence in Colombo on Friday.— PHOTO: AFP
Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj met Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in an unscheduled breakfast meeting on Friday.
This comes soon after the one-on-one meeting she had with the Sri Lankan Opposition Leader, Ranil Wickramasinghe. Ms. Swaraj has had meetings with all Sri Lankan Tamil leaders, and has informally met many Ministers and politicians in the past four days.
The invitation was extended to Ms. Swaraj, as Mr. Rajapaksa, who has been closely following the tour of the Indian joint parliamentary delegation, wanted to discuss the issues raised, in an informal atmosphere. Ms Swaraj has been clear that the delegation, being representatives of Parliament, stood for a united Sri Lanka.
At a meeting in Jaffna on April 18, after one member went off on a tangent on the Tamil question, Ms. Swaraj said the Indian Parliament was against terrorism, and for a united Sri Lanka. Tamil National Alliance leader R. Sampanthan had repeatedly stated that he wanted a solution within the framework of a united Sri Lanka, she pointed out. The next day, handing over a railway project at Aluthgama, she said a genuine political solution was necessary. She also reiterated India's commitment to remain closely engaged with the Sri Lankan government to advance the process of rehabilitation, reconstruction and national development.
She said both the ruling party and the Opposition in India were on the same side on the issue of political settlement for the Tamils of the Northern Province.
The Indian side has said Ms. Swaraj will share her impressions of the visit on Saturday before leaving for New Delhi.
Indian High Commissioner Ashok K. Kantha, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris and President's Secretary Lalith Weeratunga were present at the meeting.
A meeting with the whole delegation, slated for later in the evening, was called owing to bad weather. The helicopters ferrying them had to land at Kurunagala, just over 90 km away. This meeting has been rescheduled for Saturday morning.
On Friday, Ms. Swaraj visited Hatton to meet Tamils of Indian origin and to Batticaloa to meet Tamils in the eastern region. In Batticaloa, she inaugurated a vocational training school, and visited SWEA, an NGO that works with young widows.
There are 45,000 widows in the Eastern Province in the districts of Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara. About 13,000 are under the age of 23.
R. K. Radhakrishnan
Leader of Opposition in the Loksabha Sushma Swaraj, who is leading a 12-member multi-party delegation to Sri Lanka, at SEWA in the Batticaloa, on Friday. Photo : R.K.Radhakrishnan
THE HINDU Leader of Opposition in the Loksabha Sushma Swaraj, who is leading a 12-member multi-party delegation to Sri Lanka, at SEWA in the Batticaloa, on Friday. Photo : R.K.Radhakrishnan
Noting that talks to find a negotiated political solution to the Tamil ethnic question are deadlocked, the Indian parliamentary delegation, which wound up its six-day tour of Sri Lanka, has emphasised to the government that the stalemate has to be ended.
“We told [Sri Lankan] President Mahinda Rajapaksa that this stalemate has to be broken,” said the leader of the delegation, Sushma Swaraj.
“He [Mr. Rajapaksa] said we can't bring them [the Tamil National Alliance, the credible representative of the Tamils living in the Northern Province] by force. I said yes, you can't bring them by force, but you can bring them by persuasion,” she added.
This was the theme running through the visit, she explained. “Persuade the TNA, persuade the UNP [United National Party, the main Opposition party], to join the talks. And unless and until the Parliament Select Committee (PSC) works, the deadlock will remain. So in every meeting, we have emphasised on this point,” she added.
In a joint statement, the delegation hoped that the government would “seize this window of opportunity and follow an enlightened approach to reach a genuine political reconciliation, based on a meaningful devolution of powers, which takes into account the legitimate needs of the Tamil people for equality, dignity, justice and self-respect. We have been assured in the past that this will be done within the framework of “Thirteenth Amendment – Plus.”
Asked if she or the delegation brought up with the President the fact that he had made promises of devolution and a political solution in May 2009 (to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon), in July 2010 (to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh), in January 2012 (to External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna), she said: “We emphasised this point in every meeting. Even today with Mahinda Rajapaksaji and, as you rightly said, we also reminded them that you have given assurance to the Prime Minister of India, the Hon. External Affairs Minister of India and even to me, as the Leader of Opposition [in the Lok Sabha] when I called on him,” she said.
“But they say that Parliamentary Select Committee will discuss this and they said that we are very, very serious. We said that you are not only talking about 13th Amendment but also 13th Amendment plus. That means something more than the devolution of power,” she added.
The delegation also pressed the TNA to rejoin the talks. It appealed to all parties to join the process in the PSC. “He [TNA leader R. Sampanthan] reiterated thrice that he wants a negotiated settlement and that too within the parameters of an undivided and united Sri Lanka. And he said that he is a proud Sri Lankan. We told the government side that if these are the parameters, then there should not be any problem. There is every scope of moving forward,” she said.
One of the many points the delegation raised in the meeting with the President related to the Army's increasingly embedded role in society in the Northern Province. “We told them [the government] that Army is interfering in their [Tamils'] personal life, in their civil life. And the President was very candid. He said he would see to it that the Army would not interfere in their civil life,” Ms. Swaraj said.
On the resettlement programme, she noted that the pace of development “is good,” but “a lot remains to be done.” “There is the question of some missing persons also,” she added. On the question of refugees in India returning, she said that if the conditions in Sri Lanka were conducive, then the refugees would have returned. “It is for the Sri Lankan government to create the conditions that they return to their own homeland,” she said.
Asked to comment on Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa's comments, dismissing the delegation, she said that she would speak to the Chief Minister. “I will specially speak to madam Jayalalithaa that this visit is not a picnic trip; it is not a junket,” she said.