On a day of unseasonal rain in Colombo, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera had the most seasoned response as the country’s topmost diplomat: “India and Sri Lanka are just 26 miles apart, but it took an Indian Prime Minister 27 years to come to Sri Lanka on a bilateral visit.”
In a candid conversation on Friday with The Indian Express, he said Sri Lanka was not indulging in a balancing act with its Sinhala and Tamil population. “We are reaching out to all Sri Lankans, the new government doesn’t see them as majority or minority, each have their own culture, own religion, own language, but they are all Sri Lankans.”
Talking about the pervious Mahinda Rajapaksa government, he said: “That was all in another era. Rajapaksa government was in denial of the Tamil issue.”
“We are in the process of a credible, internal enquiry mechanism. In fact, we have sought for international technical assistance… have in fact, spoken to High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva,” he said.
In this context, he said Sri Lankan and Indian priorities could “converge” on the issue. “We are delighted that PM (Narendra) Modi is going to Jaffna… will accompany him there.”
The Sri Lankan minister termed India’s plans for starting “visa-on-arrival” from April 14, which happens to be the New Year for both Tamils and Sinhalas, a “wonderful New Year’s gift”.
On Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s statement that Indian fishermen could be shot down for intruding into Sri Lankan waters, he said: “His statement reflected the frustration of Sri Lankan fishermen.”
On China and whether the new government under Maithripala Sirisena was tilting back towards India, the minister was forthcoming: “Unlike the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa government, we have a balanced FP (foreign policy). It has now shifted to the centre, and not towards extremes. We want to engage with all our friends in the international community, from friends in India to friends in Washington to friends in Beijing.”
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