India, Sri Lanka discuss sticky fishermen issue, explore ways to deepen trade, defence engagements

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Sri Lankan PM Ranil Wickremesinghe

New Delhi, Sept 15: India on Tuesday hoped that there will be genuine reconciliation with the Tamil community in Sri Lanka, which immediately reciprocated saying it was looking at constitutional devolution of power to the ethnic minority.

The issue figured prominently in a meeting between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Ranil Wickremesinghe who made his first foreign visit to India after becoming Prime Minister nearly a month ago following victory in the Parliamentary elections.

The two leaders held extensive talks on the sticky fishermen issue and explored ways to deepen trade and defence engagements besides resolving to intensify cooperation in combating terror and securing the maritime neighbourhood.

“I am confident that with the wisdom and will of the leadership in Sri Lanka and the support of the people, Sri Lanka will achieve genuine reconciliation and development, so that all Sri Lankans, including the Sri Lankan Tamil community, can live a life of equality, justice, peace and dignity in a united Sri Lanka,” said Modi at a joint media briefing.

Wickremesinghe, on his part, responded saying his government was looking at devolution of power to ethnic Tamils under the provisions of the Constitution.

“We are looking at how power sharing takes place within the Constitution,” he said. India has been pressing Sri Lanka to implement the 13th amendment on devolution of powers to fulfil the aspirations of the ethnic Tamils.

The 13th amendment that followed the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of July 1987 signed between then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President J R Jayewardene envisaged devolution of powers to the provinces in the midst of the island’s bitter ethnic conflict.

On the fishermen issue, Modi said it was agreed that fishermen’s associations on both sides should continue their efforts to find a solution.

“I conveyed to him that this should be seen as a humanitarian issue that affects livelihoods. I informed him of the steps we are taking to encourage Indian fishermen to take up deep sea fishing,” he said.

Wickremesinghe said fishermen on both sides should continue discussions and come to a conclusion to resolve it in a time-bound manner.

Thanking Wickremesinghe for choosing India for his first overseas trip after assuming charge of the high office, Prime Minister said both the countries will intensify cooperation in combating terrorism and work together for security and stability in the maritime neighbourhood.

The Sri Lankan Prime Minister met many Indian cabinet Ministers at the Hotel Taj Palace here to discuss issues of mutual interest.

He met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas (I/C) Dharmendra Pradhan, Power Minister Piyush Goyal and Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari along with several other prominent leaders and dignitaries.

Wickremesinghe is scheduled to meet Union Minister of Finance Arun Jaitley on Wednesday.

(With Agency Inputs)

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