Seeking a ‘new beginning’ in bilateral ties, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena Sunday left for a four-day state visit to India, his maiden foreign trip after he assumed charge last month.
During the visit, the 63-year-old leader is expected to meet his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee besides holding talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on key issues, including peace and reconciliation process in his country.
According to presidential advisors, the Lankan president is desirous of making a new beginning in the Indo-Lanka relations after bilateral ties suffered under Sirisena’s predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa over India’s backing to US-moved resolutions at the UN rights body over alleged warcrimes.
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“We will be making a new beginning with India,” acting government spokesman and Minister Lakshman Kiriella said.
Sirisena, who dethroned Rajapaksa after a bitter presidential poll on January 9, has indicated that he wants to have closer relations with India.
India has been hoping that the new government will develop Lanka on the “foundation of genuine and effective reconciliation” creating harmony between all sections there.
President Mukherjee will host a banquet in the honour of Sirisena, who is making his first tour abroad after defeating Rajapaksa. He was invited to visit New Delhi by Prime Minister Modi when he congratulated him on his victory in the polls.
Sirisena is accompanied by a small delegation that includes Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne, Resettlement Minister D M Swaminathan, Power and Energy Minister Champika Ranawaka, Justice Minister Wijayadasa Rajapaksha along with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, presidential officials said.
Samaraweera also visited India on his first foreign trip soon after assuming charge last month during which he held talks with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj.
During Samaraweera’s visit, the two countries agreed to re-engage on repatriation of refugees from India as both sides held substantive talks on a raft of crucial matters, including the political reconciliation process and the sticky fishermen issue.
Sri Lankan officials say Sirisena would further discuss ways to tackle the ongoing problem of fishermen between the two countries.
At the end of his official leg of the visit, the Sri Lankan leader will travel to Buddhist pilgrimage site Bodh Gaya and Hindu temple in Tirupati on February 17 before returning home on February 18.
Briefing reporters on the Presidential visit, the Spokesperson of the External Affairs Ministry in New Delhi had said both the countries were looking at “substantive talks” in terms of announcement of agreements and frameworks.
All bilateral matters, including economy, peace and Sri Lankan reconciliation process, which is an important issue, will be discussed during Sirisena’s visit, he said.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International India Sunday said Sirisena’s ambitious plans for reform and reconciliation should lay special emphasis on ensuring justice, accountability and the rule of law.
“President Sirisena has an extraordinary opportunity to improve relations between communities in Sri Lanka, and usher in an era of true reconciliation based on justice, equality, freedom and dignity,” said Shemeer Babu, programmes director at Amnesty International India.
“The new government’s 100 day reform plan has generated a lot of optimism… It is crucial that the government does not neglect issues of justice and accountability,” he said.
President Sirisena acknowledged in his Independence Day speech that Sri Lanka had failed to heal divisions between ethnic groups since the end of the brutal civil war. His government must now act to end discrimination and impunity, ensure impartial investigations into human rights abuses, and protect free speech, the rights body said in a statement.
The Sri Lankan President has publicly promised that Sri Lanka will conduct domestic investigations into alleged crimes under international law, including allegations that both Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE committed war crimes during the armed conflict. These investigations must be conducted promptly and in good faith, with independence, adequate resources and effective witness protection, it said.