Top Indian delegation leaves after meeting president

The high powered Indian delegation which arrived in Colombo on Friday left for India yesterday by a special flight after a meeting with President Mahinda Rajapakse in Colombo.

The three-member Indian delegation comprised top members of the Indian bureaucracy – Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan and Defence Secretary Vijay Singh.

Their unpublicized arrival on Friday saw some speculative reporting that sent up both indices on the Colombo Stock Exchange that had been steadily falling earlier in the week.

Diplomatic sources said that the Indian visit was largely connected to the forthcoming SAARC Summit due to open in Colombo on August but other matters concerning Indo-Lanka relations would have also been discussed. However, there was no statement from either side.

They noted that last September, a senior Sri Lankan delegation including the Secretary to the President, Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse and the Army Commander had visited Delhi.

Among others, the Indian delegation met Minister Douglas Devananda, the Chairman of the Northern Special Task Force and Minister of Social Services.

Devananda said he had expressed utmost confidence in President Rajapakse’s "practical approach" to resolving the National Question and appealed to the Indian Government to assist as much as possible the development of the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

Devananda had a breakfast meeting with the visiting Indian delegation where he expressed the view that Rajapakse, unlike his predecessors, had a new approach towards resolving the national issue "giving rebirth to the baby that had died of natural causes with the departure of IPKF from Sri Lanka."

Devananda had also said that TULF leader V. Anandasangaree lived in a dream world of his own and was not looking at the national problem in a pragmatic way if he believes that he has persuaded the UNP which opposed President Kumaratunga’s constitutional reforms and the JHU and JVP which remained opposed to the PCs to accepted the Indian federal model.

Devananda had said that even if this model was accepted as a solution, it would have to be passed by a two-third parliamentary majority and endorsed by the people at a referendum. Such a process would take many more years.

"The president has cut the coat according to the cloth he has and activated a Provincial Council in the East," he noted. He was also seeking to do the same in the North.

Both Colombo and New Delhi were tight-lipped about discussions between the two sides with diplomats saying off the record that the forthcoming SAARC Summit and other matters of mutual interest were discussed.

The Hindu reported yesterday that the visit assumed importance in the context of India’s keen interest of a solution to the ethnic conflict.

"It (the Indian team visit) is part of the regular exchange of contacts at the highest official level between the two countries. The latest Indian official visit can be termed as a returned visit to a similar mission from Colombo to New Delhi in September last year."

A senior government official was quoted saying that talks were "free, frank and fruitful," and covered the whole gamut of India-Sri Lanka relations.

"India is not just our neighbour but a close friend and a major player in the region. This spirit was reflected at today’s talks."

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is due to hand over the Chairmanship of SAARC to President Mahinda Rajapakse at the Colombo Summit.

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