India and Sri Lanka on Wednesday signed seven agreements and discussed devolution of powers to the provinces and opening of negotiations with Tamil groups.
In delegation level talks led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and visiting Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the two sides also touched upon ensuring livelihood to Sri Lankan Tamils and steps to ensure the speedy resettlement of those still in makeshift camps over a year after the war ended with the LTTE.
The two leaders also touched on other bilateral and global issues such as stepping up trade and investment, ensuring energy security and better cooperation in counter-terrorism.
Mr. Rajapaksa assured reassured Dr. Singh about his Government’s plans to resettle refugees who continue to remain in camps. Sri Lanka claims that bulk of the displaced Tamils in its northern part have been resettled and of the 50,000 who remain, half move in and out of the camps. Colombo agreed with New Delhi’s perception that a sense of dignity and livelihood has to be ensured to all those displaced by the war.
The Sri Lankan President also briefed the Prime Minister about his Government’s plans to settle the ethnic grievances and appreciated India’s assistance in relief and resettlement to the civilians caught in the war.
Of the seven agreements inked by both sides, officials put store on the pact on interconnection of electricity grids which would help meet Sri Lanka’s energy needs. A pact in the railways would enable India take up the construction of the Talaimannar-Madhu railway line.
On the security side Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai and Secretary to the Sri Lankan President Lalith Weeratunge signed a Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters and MoU on transfer of settled prisoners. These agreements are said to stepping stones to greater security related partnership between the two countries.
Besides renewing a MoU on SDP schemes, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and Sri Lanka High Commissioner Prasad Kariyawasam agreed on the setting up a centre to assist in the rehabilitation of war widows with help from the Ahmedabad-based Self Employed Women’s Association. The two officials also inked a MoU on renewing the cultural exchange programme.
With the proposed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in a limbo for two years due to opposition in Sri Lanka, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee called on Mr. Rajapaksa on Tuesday to discuss ways of increasing bilateral trade and investment