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India intends to open Consulate in Jaffna

[Hindu, Monday, 8 March 2010 12:34 No Comment]

India intends to open a Consulate General in Jaffna to help the people of the peninsula and fully restore the connectivity to south India. The Government of Sri Lanka has agreed to the proposal.

Visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao told the Indian media contingent in an informal interactive session here that she conveyed the intention of India to open a consulate in Jaffna in the course of her nearly two-hour coordinal meeting with the island nation’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Sunday.

While Sri Lanka has three consulate offices – Chennai, Mumbai and Calcutta – in India, India has only one consulate office located in Kandy. A few weeks ago, Foreign Minister of the island nation, Rohitha Bogollagama, had indicated that his Government would have no reservations if India decided to have consulate offices in other parts of the country.

According to official sources the modalities on setting up of the Jaffna Consulate are to be worked out and the basic objective behind the move is to cater to the needs of the people of the peninsula. “It would help India strengthen the cultural links between the Northern Province in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu besides making it easier for the people to obtain visa to travel to India”, a senior official said.

Ms. Rao was here on a three day visit on the invitation of the Sri Lankan Government to the island nation for interaction with her interlocutors on a wide range of issues of mutual interest to both the counties. Her visit came days after External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna told Rajya Sabha in a written answer that the war in the island nation is over but the search for a political settlement continues.

This is the first visit of Ms. Rao to Sri Lanka since she took charge of the office of Foreign Secretary and it is the first visit of any Indian official of her stature since the re-election of Mr. Rajapaksa in the January 26 Presidential election.

A press statement issued by the Indian mission at the end of Ms. Rao’s visit said that during her interaction with Mr. Rajapaksa she welcomed the relaxation of movement restrictions on the displaced Tamil civilians and expressed the hope that the resettlement process could be expedited, especially in Killinochchi and Mullaithivu, so that the IDPs could resume normal lives in their original places of habitation.

The Foreign Secretary chose the occasion to congratulate Mr. Rajapaksa on his electoral victory and underlined that the elimination of terrorism and holding of elections provided Sri Lanka with a historic opportunity to initiate a process of political reconciliation where all communities in Sri Lanka can live in peace and harmony.

The Foreign Secretary further said that she formally extended an invitation to the President to visit India and he had agreed to travel to India sometime after the April 8 general election. According to official sources the exact dates of his visit would be worked out in the due course of time.

In the course of her visit Ms. Rao also met the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, the Foreign Secretary, Senior Advisor to the President Basil Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga, In addition, she also met representatives of leading political parties, including Tamil and Muslim parties.

The Indian mission press release said that Mr. Rajapaksa appreciated India’s substantial assistance for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka and for the resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons. In particular, the extension of US$ 425 million as Lines of Credit for railway projects in Northern Sri Lanka was welcomed.

It said the President mentioned that around 70,000 IDPs remained in the camps, many by their own volition.

“The Foreign Secretary noted that the October 2008 Joint Statement of Fishing Arrangements had led to a decrease in incidents of apprehension of Indian fishermen and reiterated the importance of strictly adhering to this understanding. It was also agreed to convene a meeting of the Joint Working Group on Fishing to discuss issues related to fishermen on both sides”.

During her discussions with the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister and other senior officials of the Foreign Office, she assured the Government of Sri Lanka of Government of India’s intention to continue supporting the task of development and reconstruction in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.

In this context, she announced India’s support for housing projects to be taken up in the Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu districts for the benefit of the IDPs. This will include setting up temporary shelters, repairing and rehabilitating damaged houses and building new houses.

India has also sanctioned the supply of 55 buses to various educational, social and cultural organisations and locally elected bodies in northern, eastern and central Sri Lanka with a view to supporting the transportation sector and strengthening connectivity in these areas.

Foreign Secretary also indicated that additional Lines of Credit are being considered for railways projects in Northern Sri Lanka.

“Cultural engagement and the preservation of shared heritage have always figured as a high priority in India-Sri Lanka relations. In this context, Foreign Secretary Smt. Nirupama Rao announced that India had decided to participate fully in the setting up of the International Buddhist Museum in the Dalada Maligawa Complex”.

Work to set up the Indian gallery will be commenced soon under the direction of the National Museum of India. Foreign Secretary also announced that India would assist the restoration of the famous Thiruketheshwaram Temple in Mannar. A team from the Archeological Survey of India and the College of Architecture in Mahaballipuram will visit Sri Lanka to take up this work”, the Indian mission press release said.

[Full Coverage]

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