Sri Lanka "somewhat serious about doing something’’ says Menon aide

TNA negative on Parliamentary Select Committee

By S Venkat Narayan Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, June 30: India’s National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon returned home from Colombo late on Friday night after day-long confabulations with the Rajapaksa Triumvirate——President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers Basil and Gotabhaya—-without any clear idea about their government’s future plans for political reconciliation within a specified time-frame.

After holding discussions with the Rajapaksa brothers, External Affairs Minister GL Peiris and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R Sampanthan, Menon and his team came back with the impression that Colombo is yet to put together a decent plan of action to achieve genuine political reconciliation even more than three years after the ethnic war brutally crushed.

"Our interlocutors gave us the impression that they are somewhat serious about doing something. They talked about holding elections in the Northern Province, but did not say when that will happen," a member of Menon’s team told the Sunday Island here today.

In other words, the President and his brothers were vague, non-committal and reluctant to say what they plan to do and when.

And Sampanthan conveyed to Menon that the TNA does not see any point in getting involved in "what looks like an infructuous process," and is therefore refusing to participate in the Parliamentary Select Committee deliberations (PSC), the source added.

The Tamils appear to believe that the Rajapaksa dispensation has no intention whatsoever of doing anything worthwhile to tackle the ethnic tangle. Apart from indulging in delaying tactics like setting up the PSC, the government of the day has no clear and concrete game plan to find a genuine solution to a festering problem.

Though the Menon trip achieved precious little, the official defended it thus: "It was a good high-level exchange of views. The proof of the pudding is in eating."

Meanwhile, talking to Colombo-based Indian reporters at the end of his visit on Friday, Menon refused to say if India is satisfied with Sri Lanka’s peace and reconciliation process with Tamils. "The goal [of the Indian engagement] is much bigger…[It is] to get this [the reconciliation process] to the right place," The Hindu today reported him as saying.

"Three years after the end of Eelam War IV, there is no forward movement on accommodating Tamils’ hopes and aspirations. The Tamil-dominated Northern Province still does not have an elected provincial council. It’s also the most militarised. Menon’s trip was to take stock of the process and convey the Indian thinking," the newspaper wrote.

Asked if India has set a date for Sri Lanka to complete the political process, Menon said: ""I don’t think that is the way it is going to move forward."

When a reporter asked if he is satisfied with the pace of progress on the reconciliation front, Menon said: "You are asking me if it is good, bad etc… I have told you what we would like: a united Sri Lanka, within which all communities feel they are in control of their own destiny, and they are satisfied. They have told me what they are doing, briefed me on where they are going, how they can take it forward. Ultimately they have to move it forward themselves. They will…. We are not going to sit here and make the atmosphere either easier or more difficult by making statements."

"Political reconciliation is clearly a Sri Lankan issue which Sri Lanka has to do, but India will continue to remain engaged with all concerned and continue to support their efforts. We will continue to support, help…do whatever we can to make sure that it moves in the right direction."

Menon said he is "not going to sit in judgement of anyone in this process" and discuss if the pace was proper or not. "This is something that has to get done. This is not a judgemental process — you like this, you don’t like this – That is not how it works."

The hopes of Tamils can only be accommodated through a political process. This is an "internal political process. We have to also look at that. It is a process that has ramifications for all of us. And it is not something that started today or yesterday" or a few years ago.

Menon said his visit is part of the regular consultations that the governments of India and Sri Lanka have. Bilateral relationship, recent developments and areas of common concern formed part of the discussions with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers. Gotabaya Rajapaksa (Defence Secretary) and Basil Rajapaksa (Minister for Economic Development).

Answering a question on the fishermen issue, Menon said both sides recognised this as a livelihood issue that has to be dealt with humanely. The fishermen associations on both sides are in touch with each other. They have reached some preliminary understanding. "We hope that they can meet and carry forward. We will work with fishermen on both sides to take this forward." Maritime security and cooperation issues also were discussed.

On Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s long-pending visit to Sri Lanka, Menon said: "The PM is still looking forward to visiting. He said he would like to come. We still have to find mutually convenient dates for that."

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