July 11, New Delhi: Sri Lanka and India on Friday comprehensively discussed several issues significant to the two nations when Sri Lanka's External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris met his Indian counterpart Shrimathi Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi.
Among the subjects discussed, enhancing the bilateral trade between the two countries and the nagging issue of Indian fishermen dominated the discussions.
Discussing the fishermen issue, Minister Peiris noted that since the assumption of office of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has directed to release 184 Indian fishermen detained in Sri Lanka and expressed appreciation for the release of 41 Sri Lankan fishermen held in Andhra Pradesh a few days ago.
The Minister underscored that the critical issues for Sri Lanka were deprivation of livelihoods of fishing communities in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka and irreparable damage to the seabed and the ocean floor by the use of such fishing methods as bottom trawling.
The two Ministers discussed the importance of finding a lasting solution to the problem of fishermen crossing into each other’s waters.
With regard to issues relating to economic cooperation, the ministers discussed a range of practical modalities for enhancing the volumes of trade and investment. In this regard there was satisfaction that investment is now a two-way process between the two countries.
The two Ministers, reviewing the projects assisted by India, noted with satisfaction that the housing projects have entered their second phase and that much of the railways infrastructure projects have been completed ahead of schedule.
Thanking India for its support at the Human Rights Council Resolution on Sri Lanka in Geneva in March Prof. Peiris briefed his Indian counterpart on the Parliamentary Select Committee process in Sri Lanka and the need to ensure its inclusivity to achieve a permanent solution to the ethnic problem.
Discussing the security and defence cooperation represents which is an important aspect of the bilateral relationship, both side agreed to continue open and transparent dialogue.
It was stated that the several defence-related mechanisms such as the annual Defence Secretary level dialogue, the Galle Dialogue on naval issues, the trilateral maritime security dialogue at National Security Adviser–Defence Secretary level and the provision to Sri Lanka of two Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) and training of military personnel have consolidated the relationship in this area.
The two ministers also discussed regional cooperation and SAARC-related issues. Prof. Peiris complimented India on reinvigorating the Indian Ocean Rim Association during its Chairmanship. Following the workshop on the establishment of a Centre of Excellence on Ocean Sciences and the Environment in Colombo two weeks ago, he sought India’s support for the establishment of this Centre in Sri Lanka.
With regard to education and cultural matters, the Ministers discussed scholarships and placements granted to Sri Lankan students annually under several schemes to pursue undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Indian universities.
Since the last session of the Sri Lanka-India Joint Commission was held in Delhi in January last year, Prof. Peiris said that Sri Lanka would like to host the next session in Colombo before the end of the year.
He invited Minister Swaraj, who led an all-party parliamentary delegation to Sri Lanka two years ago as Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, to visit Sri Lanka.
While commenting that the meeting in May between President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Modi on the occasion of the latter’s swearing in ceremony was particularly constructive, Minister Peiris reiterated the President’s invitation to Prime Minister Modi to undertake an official visit to Sri Lanka.