5:21 pm - Tuesday July 19, 2996

Promise of a new beginning as Sirisena lands

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With a promise for a “new beginning” in India-Sri Lanka ties, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena arrived in New Delhi on Sunday evening, ahead of a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday.

This is Mr. Sirisena’s first visit abroad after he defeated Mahinda Rajapaksa in January, and his spokesperson Lakshman Kiriella described it as a visit “mainly to establish a good rapport with New Delhi.”

Relations with the Rajapaksa regime had suffered a strain over its closeness with China, and reached a flashpoint over Sri Lanka’s decision to allow Chinese submarines to dock in Colombo harbour twice in 2014. Asked about the new government’s view on the issue, Mr. Kiriella said: “Our relations with China will not be detrimental to India.”

After a ceremonial welcome from President Pranab Mukherjee in the morning, Mr. Sirisena will visit Rajghat and pay his respects.

He will meet Mr. Modi over lunch, followed by delegation-level talks after which the two sides will sign a number of agreements, mainly on investment, culture and agriculture.

They will also discuss the upcoming U.N. Human Rights Council session in Geneva, where Sri Lanka could face another resolution on alleged war crimes, and a recent resolution by the Tamil-majority Northern Provincial Council for an “international genocide enquiry.”

However, sources in the government said both India and the U.S. were keen on putting off the resolution in order to give the new government time to implement its promises, and significantly, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera arrived in Delhi straight from meetings in Washington and at the U.N.

On the contentious issue of devolution of powers to the Northern Province according to the 13th amendment to the Constitution, the External Affairs Ministry spokesperson said: “We will discuss issues relating to reconciliation and reconstruction in Sri Lanka which also includes the [13th amendment].”

Both sides will also speak about the recently started talks on the repatriation of more than 100,000 Sri Lankan refugees from Tamil Nadu. Sri Lankan Resettlement Minister D.M. Swaminathan, who is accompanying Mr. Sirisena, said the government would also seek Indian assistance for the construction of 20,000 houses for workers in the plantation sector, who are Sri Lankan Tamils of recent Indian origin, in the Central Province.

While a date has not been announced, Mr. Modi is expected to visit Sri Lanka in mid-March, and the two sides will discuss his agenda, which is expected to include a trip to Jaffna.

Mr. Sirisena will attend a banquet at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Monday evening and will travel to Gaya and Tirumala on Tuesday before flying out of Kochi on Wednesday.

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