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India, Sri Lanka pledge to build better ties

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj meeting with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj meeting with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera

New Delhi, Jan 18 Nine days after President Maithripala Sirisena took office, Sri Lanka and India Sunday pledged to deepen their relations, with New Delhi agreeing to work “closely and extensively” with Colombo.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj conveyed India’s views to her new Sri Lankan counterpart Mangala Samaraweera, who arrived here overnight on his first foreign trip after Sirisena came to power Jan 9.

In three hours of extensive discussions, Sushma Swaraj and Samaraweera covered all issues including enhancing bilateral cooperation and political reconciliation efforts in Sri Lanka.

Also discussed were Indian development partnership projects in Sri Lanka and issues related to the alleged trespassing of Indian fishermen into Sri Lankan waters.

An external affairs ministry statement said the two ministers “had extremely cordial, positive and substantive discussion”, covering the entire expanse of the “close and friendly (bilateral) relations”.

Samaraweera indicated that his choice of New Delhi as his first destination “reflects the priority the new Sri Lankan government gives to relations between our two countries”.

India and Sri Lanka agreed to re-engage on the issue of repatriation of Tamil refugees currently in India.

A meeting of officials on this is to be held later this month.

The Sri Lankan minister indicated that efforts were underway to release Indian fishermen’s boats seized by authorities in Colombo.

An early meeting of the fishermen’s associations of the two countries has been proposed to discuss issues confronting the two communities.

Both India and Sri Lanka feel that a longer term solution needs to be worked out taking into consideration all aspects of the matter, the Indian statement said.

The ministers agreed that the matter needed to be dealt with in a humane way as it impacted the livelihood of thousands in both countries.

Colombo has accused fishermen mainly from Tamil Nadu of fishing in Sri Lankan waters, affecting the earnings of its own fishermen. The bitter row has often led to clashes in the sea and even deaths.

Samaraweera briefed Sushma Swaraj on the constitutional reform efforts initiative by the new government in Colombo which has ousted the regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Sushma Swaraj said India was keen to work “closely and extensively” with the new Sri Lankan government.

The India-Sri Lanka Joint Commission, which last met in January 2012 in New Delhi, will meet soon.

Sushma Swaraj has also agreed to visit Colombo.

The visiting minister will call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and hold discussions with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval Monday.

The two ministers agreed to pave the way for Sirisena’s visit to India at an early date.

An Indian spokesperson said: “The talks have been marked by warmth, mutual respect and understanding, and the substantive outcomes demonstrate the desire of India and Sri Lanka to boost our bilateral ties.”

India has repeatedly called for a political solution to issues dealing with the Tamil minority in the island nation.

The government change in Colombo is widely expected to improve relations between India and Sri Lanka that had become strained over the latter’s increasing military ties with China.