Joint parliamentary panel begins goodwill visit to Lanka

Joint parliamentary panel begins goodwill visit to Lanka

Amid continuing concern in India about the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka, a joint parliamentary delegation Monday began a six-day visit to the island nation, that includes visits to camps of displaced Tamils and areas affected by Colombo's war with the LTTE that ended in 2009.

The delegation is being led by Sushma Swaraj, leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and will travel to different parts of Sri Lanka, including its Northern, Eastern, Central and Western Provinces, the external affairs ministry said here Monday.   

The delegation consists of Members of Parliament from the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha nominated by various political parties, including the Biju Janata Dal, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Communist Party of India-Marxist, Congress, Janata Dal (United) and Samajwadi Party.

However, DMK and AIADMK, two main political parties from Tamil Nadu, have chosen to stay away from the parliamentary delegation, casting doubts over the effectiveness of the goodwill mission.

The delegation is expected to call on Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa and meet the ministers of external affairs and economic development. The MPs are also expected to interact with the Leader of the House and Sri Lankan parliamentarians. They will also separately meet politicians cutting across the spectrum, including the Leader of the Opposition and representatives of the Tamil National Alliance, the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress, the Ceylon Workers Congress and other upcountry political parties.

In their interaction, the Indian MPs are expected to seek an update from the Sri Lankan leaders on the progress by Sri Lanka over the proposed devolution of powers to the provinces and the reintegration of the Tamil provinces.

The primary focus of the delegation's visit  will be to see first-hand the areas recovering from decades of conflict in the North and East of Sri Lanka and India-sponsored projects in these areas. India has invested heavily in development assistance projects for the resettlement and rehabilitation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and reconstruction of areas affected by the conflict.

Their itinerary includes a trip to the IDP Camp at Menik Farm and visits to Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Jaffna, Kankesanthurai, Kalutara, Dickoya, Hatton and Batticaloa. Indian assistance projects, including the development of rail and port infrastructure, connectivity and transportation, education, public health, housing, de-mining, vocational training and economic revival, are being implemented in these areas.

The visit of the parliamentary delegation comes three weeks after India voted against Sri Lanka on a UN resolution, triggering speculation that it could jeopardise India's relationship with Sri Lanka.   

India is also helping the displaced Tamils through a  slew of steps aimed at enhancing agricultural productivity and providing sustainable livelihood to displaced Tamils that included supply of 70,000 agriculture tool kits; supply of 500 four-wheeled tractors and agricultural equipment; and  supply of seeds. Other major India-aided reconstruction projects include the rehabilitation of Palaly Airport and Kankesanthurai Harbour.

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