Rajapakse to meet PM amid 'perfect cordiality'

By: M.R. Narayan Swamy

(October, 11, Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse is visiting India Friday for the fourth time in two years, with his foreign minister saying bilateral ties are now marked by 'perfect cordiality and understanding'.

Although Rajapakse is coming to take part in a leadership summit organised by the Hindustan Times, he will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pratibha Patil for talks on bilateral matters and the situation in his island nation.

The visit comes at a time when the Sri Lankan military is preparing to take on the Tamil Tigers in their stronghold in the country's north and when his government's human rights record is under scrutiny from international monitors.

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogallagama, who will be accompanying Rajapakse, told IANS that relations between Sri Lanka and India were today in state of 'perfect cordiality and understanding'.

'This is a major feat we have accomplished,' he said over the phone from Colombo. 'We have achieved something. This is a major development not seen for a very long time.'
Rajapakse will discuss bilateral issues including the ethnic conflict with Manmohan Singh, call on Patil and meet opposition leader L.K. Advani and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

Rajapakse, who prides himself as a friend of India, will be the lead speaker Saturday at the annual leadership summit, whose theme is 'Imagine the India that can be'.

A diplomatic source said that Rajapakse would talk about the complementarities between India and the South Asian neighbourhood, Sri Lanka included.

'The president will dwell on the synergies that can be developed between India and the neighbourhood, both external and internal,' the source told IANS. 'He will cover a wide ambit.'
Rajapakse was elected president in November 2005 by a narrow margin and flew to India the very next month.

He visited India again in November 2006 and in April this year. On all occasions he held bilateral discussions with Indian leaders. He has also met Manmohan Singh in third countries.
Rajapakse's latest visit comes when New Delhi is quietly pressing Colombo to come up with a credible political solution to the ethnic conflict. Sri Lanka, however, seems determined to take on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the island's north after ousting the Tigers from the east.

The unending fighting has sparked fears of further bloodshed. And Colombo has come under international scrutiny over what activists allege are massive human rights abuses in the northeast. The government denies the charge.

Two years of fighting between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan military has virtually killed the Norway-brokered ceasefire agreement of 2002 and strangled the international peace process.
What worries India is the visible slow progress in government attempts to come up with a framework that would devolve powers to the Tamil regions in Sri Lanka. But Indian officials do not comment on this publicly.

And while New Delhi repeatedly urges Colombo to avoid civilian casualties, it is not ready to go with sections of the West in condemning Sri Lanka's human rights record.

Douglas Devananda, the most high profile Tamil member of Rajapakse's cabinet, visited New Delhi last week. According to him, the government is being urged to come up with interim councils to govern the north and east and an apex body to oversee the councils.