India for lasting political solution in Tamil areas: Khurshid
India today said it would press for the meaningful devolution of powers in Sri Lanka's provinces to foster a "lasting political settlement" that will ensure equality, justice and self-respect for the Tamil minority.
"India is committed to pursuing the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, and building upon it, to achieve a meaningful devolution of powers," External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said.
"Our objective is to enable a lasting political settlement which will ensure that all communities, including the Sri Lankan Tamil community, are able to lead a life marked by equality, justice, dignity and self-respect," he said in his speech at a ceremony here to mark the handing over of a housing project and small business enterprises created with Indian aid.
Khurshid assured the people of the Tamil-dominated Northern Province that India will work closely with the Sri Lankan government and the regional council to ensure that a "constructive and cooperative relationship is established with the overall objective of rebuilding peoples’ lives devastated by the three decades of armed conflict".
India, he said, will do everything possible to work with Sri Lanka to take this "process forward in a spirit of partnership and cooperation".
Earlier in the day, Khurshid met President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who said Sri Lanka's Parliament is the best forum to address the issue of devolving powers to Tamil-inhabited areas.
"Parliament is the best forum to address the issue," Rajapaksa said. A Parliamentary Select Committee should hold a dialogue and frame a solution that is in line with what the people want, the President added.
During his talks with his Sri Lankan counterpart G L Peiris yesterday, Khurshid sought meaningful devolution of powers by Sri Lanka and early resumption of dialogue to facilitate "genuine reconciliation" in Tamil-inhabited areas.
Newly elected Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran, whose Tamil National Alliance swept the polls in the Northern Province, today said India played a key role in ensuring the holding of the election. He called on India to help rebuild the war-ravaged region. On his first visit to Jaffna, Khurshid said he happy that his trip coincided with the successful culmination of the first provincial elections in over 25 years and the formation of the Northern Provincial Council.
"After decades of armed conflict, when the people of Sri Lanka are staking a claim to a peaceful future, the government and the people of India remain committed to assisting them in their endeavours for rehabilitation and reconstruction," he said.
During the ceremony, certificates were handed over to beneficiaries of an Indian-aided housing project and a scheme to provide assistance to owners of micro and small enterprises damaged during the armed conflict.
Khurshid also visited Tellipalai, a village where people are reconstructing their homes with funds provided by India.
The housing project is a flagship scheme of India’s development assistance to Sri Lanka and it is the largest grant assistance venture undertaken by India anywhere in the world.
A total of 1,000 houses have been completed under a pilot project and nearly 16,000 houses are in various stages of construction in the second phase.
"It is expected that our commitment to construct all the 50,000 houses would be fulfilled before the end of 2015," Khurshid said.
The reconstruction of the Northern Railway line under Indian lines of credit too is progressing smoothly and is expected to be completed by April 2014, ahead of schedule.
"Our vision is to see the Yaal Devi Express, which used to ply on this route, restart its services in 2014. Complementing our assistance in the railways sector, we have helped remove wrecks from Kankesanthurai Harbour and have completed the process of dredging the port," Khurshid said. India has offered a line of credit for upgrading infrastructure and developing Kankesanthurai into a commercial port. It will also endeavour to enhance sea-side connectivity by restarting the ferry service between Rameswaram and Talaimannar.
In addition, India has offered aid to rehabilitate Palaly and develop it into a full-fledged civilian airport with regional connectivity.
Another important Indian-aided project is the construction of the Jaffna Cultural Centre. India is in the process of concluding an MOU for this project.
Khurshid referred to the dynamic ties between the two countries rooted in history, language, culture and trade, and said an important aspect of this is the special relationship between people of the Northern Province and southern India.
"India remains committed to uplifting the lives of the people of the Northern Province through its efforts to restore the social, educational, economic and cultural infrastructure, which were devastated by the armed conflict," he said.
He also referred to an MoU signed yesterday to provide technical assistance to the 10-year National Plan for a Trilingual Sri Lanka. "We believe this is an important initiative to promote harmony and national reconciliation between the various linguistic communities in Sri Lanka," Khurshid said.