Salman Khurshid to visit Sri Lanka for bilateral talks


New Delhi, Oct 6: External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid will pay a two-day visit to Sri Lanka from Monday to hold talks with the country's top leadership on key issues, including Indian fishermen languishing in jails there and devolution of powers to the provinces.

This is his first visit to Sri Lanka as the External Affairs Minister and comes immediately after the provincial elections in Tamil-dominated Northern Province last month which Sri Lanka's Tamil National Alliance (TNA) won.

Apart from holding talks with his Sri Lankan counterpart G L Peiris, Khurshid will call on President Mahinda Rajapaksa and meet other senior leaders.

He will also visit Jaffna and is expected to meet top leaders there, including Chief Minister-elect of the Northern Province C V Wigneswaran, who will be sworn in by President Rajapaksa tomorrow in Colombo.

Expeditious implementation of the 13th amendment on devolution of powers to the provinces, Indian fishermen languishing in Sri Lankan jails, implementation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and cooperation in commerce are some of the main issues which are expected to be highlighted by the minister during his meetings.

The issue of Sri Lankan forces arresting scores of Indian fishermen has become contentious with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also raising it with the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister when he called on him here to invite him for Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo in November.

Last week, a Sri Lankan court had ordered the release of 35 Indian fishermen but did not pass a direction on five seized boats. Also, 20 fishermen were arrested last week by Lankan Navy in the Palk Strait.

Another issue that is expected to be discussed during the talks is India's continuous demand of full implementation of the 13th amendment, a byproduct of the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord.

India and Sri Lanka will tomorrow sign an accord for a 500 MW thermal power project to be jointly developed by state- owned NTPC and a local partner in the island nation in the presence of Khurshid.

India has been pushing for full implementation of the 13th amendment under the Sri Lankan Contitution to devolve more powers to the provincial councils. India and other countries have hailed the provincial council elections, saying the Sri Lankan government has kept its promise.

Khurshid will call on President Mahinda Rajapaksa and meet other senior leaders.

"We have taken note of the observations made by election observers from the Forum of South Asian Election Management Bodies and also the Commonwealth. Overall, it has been acknowledged that the will of the people has been reflected at these elections," the Ministry of External Affairs had said in a statement immediately after the polls.

TNA convincingly defeated the ruling UPFA coalition of President Rajapaksa, grabbing 30 of the 38 seats in the much -awaited polls. Trade and commerce will also be discussed during Khurshid's visit which aims at enhancing economic ties considerably.

During the talks held in June, it was agreed that there was considerable potential to expand bilateral trade in a balanced manner through optimal utilisation of the opportunities available between the two neighbours.

India has emerged as Sri Lanka's foremost development partner in public investment strategy through the provision of assistance and credit totalling USD 1.75 billion.

Indian projects include the construction of 50,000 houses in the former conflict stricken areas in the north and east of that country and also in the central hill plantation areas.

The previous visit by an Indian External Affairs Minister was by S M Krishna, who had gone there in January last year. The last high-level Indian visit was by National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon in July this year.


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