Krishna calls for a political settlement
India to provide $1.7 bn for NE over 3 yrs


by S. Venkat Narayan

Our Special Correspondent

COLOMBO, November 26: Visiting Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna said here today that the cessation of hostilities in Sri Lanka in May last year provided "a historic opportunity" to address all outstanding issues related to the rehabilitation of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as well as "a political settlement in a spirit of understanding and accommodation."

Talking to reporters alongwith his Sri Lankan counterpart Prof. G. L. Peiris at the end of a joint commission meeting presided over by both, Krishna expressed the hope that "a structured dialogue mechanism" to work towards this end will be launched soon.

Prof. Peiris responded by saying that talks were in progress with all stake-holders to hammer out a solution agreeable to all. President Mahinda Rajapaksa met Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R Sampanthan last fortnight, and has been meeting leaders of other Tamil political parties since then.

A senior Indian Foreign Ministry official told The Island that the commitments made by India in the agreed minutes of the Joint Commission meeting signed here today

amounted to a staggering grant of $1.7 billion for the development of the civil war-ravaged Northern and Eastern Provinces over the next three years.

All projects will employ only Sri Lankans, thus providing them with employment. No Indians will be brought to work on the projects, the official declared.

Krishna said Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and other leaders he met on Friday had assured him that the remaining IDPs too would be settled by end-December.

He announced that, with the signing of a $416.39 million credit agreement for the Northern Railway Construction Project, work would begin at the inauguration ceremony scheduled at Medawachchiya for on Saturday.

The Indian minister pointed out that, to build on the "vibrant and multi-faceted partnership" between the two countries, "it is important that we leverage our common strategic interests, further enhance connectivity and economic engagement, and promote people-to-people contacts."

The opening of the Indian Consulates General in Hambantota on Sunday and Jaffna on Saturday is "a significant milestone in this quest," he declared. His visit to Hambantota was cancelled on Friday at the last minute due to inclement weather. He will go there on Sunday before flying back to India.

Krishna said the two countries also expect to resume ferry services between Colombo and Tuticorin, and Talaimannar and Rameswaram soon. An agreement for this has been finalised.

He asserted that the project for building 50,000 houses for the IDPs in the Northern and Eastern Provinces and also for the tea estate workers in the Central Province at a cost of $2.5 million will be "an enduring symbol of Indo-Sri Lankan partnership. The project’s commencement will begin at a ground-breaking ceremony at Ariyalai near Jaffna on Saturday.

Earlier, the two governments signed an agreement to reconstruct the railway lines damaged during fighting in the north.The credit agreement for the construction of the northern railway line was signed between the two countries at the President’s office in Colombo. The signing took place in the presence of President Rajapaksa and the visiting minister.

In addition, letters were exchanged between Treasury Secretary PB Jayasundara and Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Ashok K Kantha for the first phase of the 50,000 housing project for the IDPs being funded by India, after the meeting between the President and the Indian Minister.

Initially 1000 houses will be constructed in a cluster format on land given by the Sri Lanka government.

The meeting between President Rajapaksa and the Indian External Affairs Minister was cordial and friendly. Krishna felicitated the President on his assumption of duties for the second term.

It was decided that India will loan to Sri Lanka the Kapilawasthu relics next May for the 2600th Sambudda Jayanthi celebrations. Prof Peiris expressed the hope that Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh will be able to visit Sri Lanka to mark the occasion.

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