Govt. Trying To Mend Relations With India
- Menon’s visit organized by Defence Ministry
- Opposition parties displeased with Govt.’s silence
Sri Lanka’s relations with India have always been complex for centuries.
Yet, Indo-Sri Lankan relations have never been in turmoil like now. Relations between the two countries have strained due to the constant bald-faced lies uttered by the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration to the Indian government.
The meeting between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Indian Premier Manmohan Singh in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on the sidelines of the Rio+20 Summit and National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon’s impending visit to Sri Lanka are expected to get Indo-Lankan relations back on track.
A foreign diplomat based in Colombo said, “It would be a good opportunity for the two countries to mend relations and Colombo would have to be very mindful not to commit any diplomatic faux pas this time around.”
The Rajapaksa government has been on the back foot since March following India’s decision to vote in favour of the US backed Resolution on Sri Lanka at the 19th UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in Geneva. The actions of the Sri Lankan government had placed the Indian government in an unenviable position during the UNHRC sessions in March. The forked-tongue utterances of the Rajapaksa government since 2006 compelled India to make a move to indicate that its patience towards Sri Lanka was running out.
Looking back on Indo-Sri Lankan relations one could easily see the diplomatic faux pas on the part of the Rajapaksa administration. Although India is most often seen as the Big Brother who bullies Sri Lanka, the actions of the Sri Lankan government have placed a massive strain on bilateral relations.
President Rajapaksa’s constant assurances to India of finding a political solution to the ethnic issue based on power devolution and the implementation of the 13th Amendment and its failure to deliver on these promises was the beginning of the conflict between the two governments. The President’s claim to even look at a political solution that goes beyond the 13th Amendment only compounded the problem.
Since the end of the war India has been continuously reminding the President of his assurances. However, relations between the two countries started to stagnate following Indian External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna’s visit to Sri Lanka in January this year.
The Sri Lankan government’s denial of discussing and agreeing to a political solution to the ethnic issue that goes beyond the 13th Amendment with Krishna after the Indian Minister concluded his visit was not taken lightly by India.
India also called for the implementation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recommendations. The Rajapaksa government dismissed this request as well.
Finally, the government was in panic mode when the US backed Resolution calling for the implementation of the LLRC was presented to the UNHRC. President Rajapaksa immediately telephoned Prime Minister Singh seeking India’s support for Sri Lanka at the UNHRC. Yet, the Rajapaksa government failed to respond to a request by the Indian government to clarify Sri Lanka’s stance on the political solution. The Indian government in its request for a clarification in March this year had referred to the discussion between Krishna and the President.
It was a last ditch attempt by the Indian government to clarify the government’s stance on the political solution. The Sri Lankan government however, failed to respond resulting in Premier Singh making a statement in parliament that India is compelled to support the Resolution.
The Rajapaksa government has since the March 22nd vote in Geneva, been kicking its heels in anger against India.
MR meets Singh
Three months after the adoption of the Resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC, Premier Singh met President Rajapaksa in Brazil last week. The meeting took place at the Hotel Windsor Atlantica where both leaders were residing while attending the Rio+20 Summit.
The meeting took place on Thursday (21) at 10.45 a.m. Rio time and Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga also participated in the meeting. The two leaders had discussed rehabilitation and power devolution as solutions.
Rajapaksa had updated Singh on the current rehabilitation plans and emphasized that the number of refugees awaiting resettlement had fallen from 300,000 to 3,000. Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai had told journalists, “The (Sri Lankan) President also referred to the situation within Sri Lanka and mentioned the continuing discussions on the issue of devolution. But, the large focus was on what is being done for the rehabilitation of internally displaced people and he quoted the figure of about 3000 who now continue to remain in the camps compared to 300,000 when the war ended”.
“He also noted that the resettlement process was also underway and electrification of the northern region, the Power Minister being present mentioned, was also making very good progress,” Mathai was quoted as saying in the Indian media.
It is learnt that Singh had emphasized to Rajapaksa the need to show progress in the reconciliation process and to look for a political solution based on power devolution to address the ethnic issue.
Be that as it may, the meeting between Rajapaksa and Singh would undoubtedly be an icebreaker. However, the onus is now on the Sri Lankan government to ensure that it does not commit political hara kiri by obstructing the further improvement of Indo-Lanka relations.
It is in this backdrop that India’s National Security Advisor Menon is due to visit Sri Lanka on the 29th of June. According to the External Affairs Ministry, the Defence Ministry is organizing Menon’s visit to the country.
However reports have so far claimed that Menon’s visit to Sri Lanka is not a follow-up to Singh’s meeting with the President. It is expected that new developments with regard to Sri Lanka’s external affairs will be discussed during Menon’s visit to Sri Lanka.
The discussions are to also focus on economic and security issues concerning the two countries.
Menon would be the first Indian government official to visit Sri Lanka following the adoption of the UNHRC Resolution. “The only hope is that the Sri Lankan government does not make the same mistakes it had made with India in the past few years,” a member of the diplomatic corps said.
The Tamil Nadu Factor
While the Central government of India is making an effort to rebuild relations with Sri Lanka, South India continues to wage war on the Sri Lankan government.
Last week, DMK president M. Karunanidhi strongly objected to remarks allegedly made by Power and Energy Minister Champika Ranawaka where he is said to have threatened another “massacre” of Tamils. Karunanidhi urged Singh to take up the issue with the Sri Lankan government and the United Nations.
“It has come to our notice that Sri Lankan cabinet minister Champika Ranawaka has warned of hundred more massacres and has threatened that one Mullivaikal (where thousands of Tamil civilians were killed) was enough and that no one should try to get hundred more,” Karunanidhi has said in a letter to Singh.
“The remarks of the Sri Lankan minister are highly provocative and therefore condemnable,” he had said, adding that Tamils all over the world are extremely perturbed over the reprehensible remarks of the Sri Lankan minister. “I therefore request you to kindly use your good offices to take up this matter with the Sri Lankan government with an advice to adopt a course of restraint and humanitarianism,” he had said.
According to Karunanidhi, the UN may also be apprised of the harsh stance of the Sri Lankan government.
The hard stance maintained by Tamil Nadu politicians against Sri Lanka however puts pressure on the Indian Central government. Given the formation of the UPA government, the Tamil Nadu factor plays a prominent role in India’s domestic politics. The Rajapaksa government therefore needs to be attentive to the demands of the South Indian polity if Sri Lanka is to further develop relations with India.
Workshop for Envoys
The continuous diplomatic faux pas seem to have made the Rajapaksa administration take stock of its foreign policy. Given the defeat experienced at the UNHRC this March, the government has planned a workshop for Sri Lankan envoys in overseas missions.
The workshop is to be conducted from July 7th till 10th and the envoys would be briefed on the government’s policies, latest trends in foreign relations and post-war development work. The envoys are to arrive in Sri Lanka on July 6th.
President Rajapaksa will deliver the key note address and External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris will be present as well. The special meeting with the Lankan envoys will take place on 7th and 8th of July in Diyatalawa and on 9th July in Kilinochchi. The participants will return to Colombo on the 10th of July, sources said.
The government expects the workshop to help build the country’s foreign relations and to be prepared by the time Sri Lanka goes before the UNHRC in November for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Human Rights. Given that the Resolution adopted on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC will be taken up for review next March and two of Sri Lanka’s key allies, Russia and China going out of the Council, the government will definitely have to pay attention to building diplomatic relations.
Govt. invites UNHRC
The government last week extended an invitation to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillai to visit the country. The Sri Lankan Mission to Geneva has called on the High Commissioner to see for herself the developments on the ground.
The government has also said that despite the setbacks caused by a Resolution being adopted on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council recently Sri Lanka will continue to proactively and voluntarily engage with UN mechanisms including Special Procedures, Treaty Bodies and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to provide the international community with a comprehensive update on the related developments.
“We are hopeful that the invitation extended in April 2012 to the High Commissioner to visit Sri Lanka, will be availed of, to ascertain firsthand the many positive developments on the ground, following the end of the terrorist conflict. As ever, Madam President, we assure you of our fullest cooperation in conducting the work of this session,” the Sri Lankan Mission had said.
The Sri Lankan Mission has informed the UNHRC that the resolution adopted on Sri Lanka at the last regular session had caused mistrust about international processes among the people of Sri Lanka and runs counter to domestic efforts.
Addressing the ongoing 20th session of the UNHRC, the Sri Lankan delegation said that the government continues to believe that the resolution was completely unnecessary and unwarranted.
“We are mindful of these concerns of our people, and will therefore resolutely pursue a home grown solution on reconciliation which has their endorsement. Considering the gamut of changes that the country has undergone in the post-conflict scenario, it is paramount that Sri Lanka is provided time and space to overcome its own challenges,” the Sri Lankan mission said in its statement.
However, the Sri Lanka delegation has also said it remained committed to pursuing the implementation of the recommendations of its domestic reconciliation mechanism, the LLRC and some of the recommendations are already in a stage of implementation.
The government has said that 33 LLRC recommendations have been identified to be implemented.
Government ministers have expressed dissatisfaction over Presidential Secretary Lalith Weertaunge’s comments recently that 33 recommendations would be implemented without briefing the Cabinet of Ministers.
A government ministers said that Weeratunge’s Task Force had made the decision without the governing UPFA deciding on its official stance on the LLRC recommendations.
While the government has failed to respond positively to the proposals made by the opposition political parties, headed by the UNP to support the reconciliation process, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has decided not to make any overtures to the government.
The UNP has also joined the TNA in expressing its sentiments that the parliamentary select committee (PSC) proposed by the government would be another farce to buy time.
UNP seniors, who discussed last week about the government’s failure to respond to Wickremesinghe’s proposals, have decided that the UNP as the main opposition has done its part by extending support to the government’s reconciliation effort.
Wickremesinghe has managed to checkmate the government by expressing support to the government’s effort, when the Rajapaksa administration has not made any positive headway in the reconciliation process.
Until the UNP expressed support to the government and said it would participate in the PSC, the government’s stoic response to the international community with regard to progress made in the reconciliation process was the fact that the opposition political parties were boycotting the PSC.
The UNP after a long time has managed to checkmate the government and left Rajapaksa without an excuse to give the international community for his failure to initiate the reconciliation process.