Political events over the last few days were dominant with the news that came from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in Sri Lanka. Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Kurshid had been busy dealing with multiple concerns related to bilateral issues in a very diplomatic way. Meanwhile, it seemed British Prime Minister David Cameron had one single obsession about the human rights record of Sri Lanka, particularly in terms of the war carried out to end brutal terrorism of the Tamil Tigers.
Apart from attending to official duties associated with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Kurshid had extracurricular work to do in Sri Lanka during his short stay. He arrived in the country on November 13 and left on 17.
He, accompanied by India’s new Foreign Secretary Ms. Sujatha Singh, and senior officials Natvej Sarna and Pankaj Kapoor, was occupied with a tight schedule of work on the sidelines of the CHOGM. Main items among them were his interactions with the stakeholders of the fisheries sector including subject minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne.
Fermented by large scale poaching by Indian fishermen, mostly from Tamil Nadu in Sri Lanka’s exclusive economic zone, the fisheries crisis has taken epic proportions leading to new diplomatic initiatives between the two countries.
" British Prime Minister David Cameron who even visited the north toughened its stand on Sri Lanka, and set 2014 March as the deadline for a credible investigation into the alleged rights violations, failing which , he vowed to push for international action by the United Nations Human Rights Council "
" During a meeting held last Thursday, Mr.Kurshid met with Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem for a discussion on the fisheries issue. On behalf of India, he proposed to arrange meetings between the representatives of the fisheries societies of the two countries "
Kurshid fishing in‘untroubled’ waters
The fisheries crisis has been an irritant to the relationship between the two countries. The issue kept Mr. Kurshid busy here.
Fishermen from both sides are being arrested and held in custody. Legions of Indian fishermen continue to cross the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL), and poach in Sri Lanka’s exclusive economic zone of the Indian Ocean despite bilateral engagements at the highest level to find a way out.
In addition to depleting the country’s fishing stocks in the narrow strip of sea between India and Sri Lanka across Palk Strait, there are legitimate allegations that these intruding fishermen use proscribed fishing methods such as bottom trawling and laying monofilament nets, causing excessive damage to the marine resources of Sri Lanka.
Likewise, there have been instances where fishermen from Sri Lanka illegally entering India’s exclusive economic zone. Around 100 Sri Lankan fishermen had been arrested for this offence during the past few weeks.
During a meeting held last Thursday, Mr.Kurshid met with Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem for a discussion on the issue. On behalf of India, he proposed to arrange meetings between the representatives of the fisheries societies of the two countries, to discuss and find a way out of this problem. Mr.Kurshid had reportedly suggested at the meeting that such discussions should be held at venues in both India and Sri Lanka.
Rajitha to take wing to Delhi
Also proposed was to encourage Indian fishermen to undertake deep sea fishing instead of confining themselves to shallow waters in the Palk Strait. For that, they need to be equipped with better facilities such as multi-day boats and communication equipment. The meeting took place in a cordial atmosphere. Mr. Kurhsid, an Oxford scholar, showed his keenness to address the problem, and to ease off tension.
Ms. Sujatha Singh who accompanied the Minister mooted the idea for the establishment of joint fisheries ventures between the two sides to ensure a bipartisan approach in attempting to solve this problem.
Shortly after the meeting, Mr. Hakeem, in his capacity of the Justice Minister, relayed the message to Dr. Senaratne who had taken a tough line on the matter despite his otherwise liberal approaches to relationships with foreign nations.
Dr. Senaratne conveyed to Mr. Hakeem that he would take wing to New Delhi for a meeting with his counterpart to find measures for the settlement of this protracted issue.
Kurshid keen on UNP tussle too
Another important engagement of Mr. Kurshid, alongside the CHOGM, was the confab with a United National Party (UNP) delegation led by its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and other party stalwarts. The Indian Minister reportedly inquired about the recent political reforms – the appointment of a leadership Council and the designation of party leader as the national leader. Upon such inquiries, the meeting was devoted mostly to discuss current political affairs. The state leaders and delegates, who were in town for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), made use of the opportunity to interact with a cross section of the Sri Lankan society .
SLMC, TNA say hello to CHOGM leaders
The political parties seized the opportunity available to them during the CHOGM, to meet with foreign leaders including heads of states. On one occasion, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) led by Mr. Hakeem met with Anifah Aman, the Foreign Minister of Malaysia.
SLMC, a party of the ruling coalition, has differences with the government on some matters, particularly those concerning the Muslim community. Likewise, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) had a meeting with visiting South African President Jacob Zuma over the role to be played by South Africa in the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka. The TNA is considering this offer, and the party is now going to brief India about it.
Mature views at Commonwealth Youth Forum
The Commonwealth Youth Forum, held in Hambantota, witnessed an initiative by a group of British youths of Sri Lankan origin. The movement called ‘Achievement for Real Change’ consists of youths from Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities. After the event, they met with National Languages and Social Integration Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara and discussed measures for reconciliation among different ethnic communities in the country.
“These youths belong to the third generation of their families living in the United Kingdom. They still have names identified with their ethnicities. Yet, they are unable to converse in Sinhala or Tamil. They were very keen to learn about the language policy of the country and asked questions about it.At one point, they said why not promote English as lingua franca if difference of language has become a stumbling block for reconciliation.Then I told them that language is not the sole issue,” Minister Nanayakkara told Daily Mirror. Among these youths are medical doctors and psychiatrists. They want to help Sri Lanka as they affectionately care for the country where their roots are.
Vasu not happy about translation lapse
“They promise to travel here at their own expense and do voluntary work for harmony among different ethnicities. That would be a useful contribution to our work under way,” the minister said.
Meanwhile, during receptions held for foreign delegates, Minister Nanayakkara discussed about post-war progress in Sri Lanka.
“I met leaders from a host of countries including Guyana and Nigeria. They were delighted about the warmth and hospitality of Sri Lankans. They were amazed at the grand organisation of the event. Earlier, they had assumed Sri Lanka to be a war battered country with its scars still remaining. Upon arrival here, they noticed a totally different picture,” he said. However, Mr. Nanayakkara, fully occupied with the language issue, brought to the notice of these delegates that the Tamil equivalent of the Sinhala word ‘ Ayubowan’ (The greeting expression) had not been mentioned in the invitation cards sent to them.
“The same Sinhala word is mentioned in Tamil letters on invitation cards. In fact, they should have mentioned the Tamil translation of it. I mentioned it to the foreign delegates I met with. They said they could not realise such fine details. They had only seen the broader picture,” he said.
The Minister had not stopped at that point. He, in fact, registered his protest in writing with the CHOGM organisers.
Cameron tries to shine International Spotlight
The CHOGM ended Sunday, with the issuing of Colombo charter that calls for commitment from Commonwealth nations for sustainable fostering integrated with equitable development. Mixed feelings were expressed about the event as Sri Lanka hosted it amid a row over allegations of human rights violations. The event turned the international spotlight on the country again which wasn’t really a positive outcome. In fact, British Prime Minister David Cameron who even visited the north toughened Britain’s stand on Sri Lanka, and set 2014 March as the deadline for a credible investigation into the alleged rights violations, failing which , he vowed to push for international action by the United Nations Human Rights Council(UNHRC).
GL confident of multiple benefits
External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris said the foreign dignitaries were delighted about the capability of Sri Lanka to hold the event so successfully and that the country would gain multiple benefits as a result of its success.
“It was flawless. Delegates watched it with great admiration. The Youth Forum, in particular, afforded the opportunity for youth representatives for better understanding, and to discuss. They had the opportunity to visit other parts of the country too,” he told Daily Mirror.
JVP brings strongman Lalkantha to the fore
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), in the backdrop of electoral defeats at the September 21 Provincial Council Elections, is now trying new political strategies to reinvigorate the party in full measure at the future elections.
In anticipation of the premature dissolution of the Western Provincial Council early next year, the party has appointed its trade union wing leader K.D. Lalkantha to Colombo to spearhead the campaign as the group leader.
Mr. Lalkantha, a party strongman who was based in Anuradhapura, has started rejuvenating the party in the Colombo district.
Asked about the latest strategy, JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva said, “Colombo is the political nerve centre of the party. After the decline of votes to the party at the recent elections, we decided to inject new energy to the party machinery. For that, we need comrade Lalkantha to be here in Colombo. The western province determines the political direction of the country. Also, it is an area a large number of public servants work and live in. Comrade Lalkantha being an active trade union leader has been able to win considerable confidence among public servants and manual workers.
The government is apparently contemplating on a presidential election first. For that, the ground is being laid at the moment. Once the Western Provincial Council Election is conducted, the two other Provincial Councils- Uva and Sothern- will be dissolved. Then, these two provincial council elections will be followed by a presidential election. Taking this electoral eventuality into account, the JVP has already started getting its act together.