India is likely to push for an early finalisation of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with Sri Lanka during the September 14-16 visit of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to New Delhi.
It will be the newly elected Sri Lankan PM’s first visit to New Delhi, as well as his first official visit abroad after January, when he was first appointed to the post.
Former president Chandrika Kumaratunga, who is working closely with the new government and is currently on a visit to India, confirmed Wickremesinghe’s visit during an interaction with journalists here.
Wickremesinghe had expressed his support for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with India only two months ago at a business forum in Colombo, asking Sri Lankan businessmen not to fear it but see it as an opportunity.
The two countries have been talking about a CEPA for several years, but Sri Lankan opposition to it stalled its finalisation. India, government sources said, will now be looking to tie up the details with Wickremesinghe’s “national unity government” and work towards finalising the agreement.
Wickremesinghe has also spoken in favour of a land bridge between Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu and Thalaimannar on Sri Lanka’s western coast. More than the Sethusamudram project, which has now been almost given up, the idea of a land bridge has supporters in the Modi government.
The Sri Lankan PM is likely to have a lunch meeting with his counterpart Narendra Modi on September 15, aside from meetings with others in India’s political leadership the same day.
India will be looking for indications too from Wickremesinghe that the Sri Lankan government will not allow the controversial $1.5 bn Port City project, awarded to the Chinese by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, to go ahead. The project is at the moment suspended, pending an environmental impact assessment.
Wickremesinghe’s visit comes ahead of a crucial meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, where a report by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Sri Lanka’s alleged war crimes is to be released. It is likely to press for further investigation into the killings of civilians, disappearances and other rights violations by the Sri Lankan military.
Both President Maithripala Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe have said they want a domestic investigation. The Northern Provincial Council led by the Tamil National Alliance has called for an international investigation. The TNA is now the main opposition party in the Sri Lankan parliament.
Wickremesinghe will look to New Delhi for help to forge a compromise with the TNA on this issue.
Sri Lankan sources said he will also press for New Delhi’s cooperation in ending “poaching” by Tamil Nadu fishermen in Sri Lanka’s territorial waters. The daily incidents of poaching by Indian “bottom trawlers” is a major concern for the Tamils of Northern Sri Lanka. They see Tamil Nadu fishermen as out to wreck their livelihood.
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