Prime Minister Narendra Modi sets off tomorrow on a five-day tour of Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka that is expected to give traction to the country’s Indian Ocean outreach during which he also visit a former war zone and Tamil heartland of Jaffna.
As Modi visits Sri Lanka on March 13-14 on the third and final leg of his tour, Indian officials said today that New Delhi is looking forward to a solution to the “humanitarian” issue of its fishermen’s rights amid controversial remarks by Lankan Premier Ranil Wickramasinghe.
Modi will be the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Jaffna where he will hand over homes built with the help of Indian assistance. An Indian Prime Minister is also visiting the island nation after a gap of 28 years since late Rajiv Gandhi last visited the country in 1987.
Some 20,000 such homes were built in Jaffna described by India as “a flagship cooperation project currently in Sri Lanka”.
Asked at a news conference about the controversy over Wickramasinghe’s remarks that Indian fishermen may be shot if they intruded into his country’s waters, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar said External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had taken up the matter with the premier during her meeting with him in Colombo last Saturday.
“It is recognised today that there is a livelihood issue(of fishermen). There is a humanitarian aspect. We expect to sit with Lanka in finding a solution,” Jaishankar said.
The current thinking is that the fishermen bodies on both sides could meet just after Modi’s visit to Lanka.
Jaishankar also said that India is working with Sri Lanka’s new government to repatriate nearly one lakh Tamil refugees who fled to Tamil Nadu during the civil war.
“We had agreed when Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister was here(in New Delhi) in January to find ways by which these refugees could go back with honour, dignity, safety,” he said.
He said one meeting already had taken place on the bilateral side on January 30 to discuss the issue.
According to Jaishankar, there are 65,000 refugees living in 109 government-run camps in Tamil Nadu and another 37,000 are staying elsewhere in the state.
Modi, who will also address Sri Lankan Parliament during his visit, will be only the second foreign leader after British Premier David Cameron to visit Jaffna in the Northern province. Cameron went to Jaffna in November 2013 on the sidelines of the Commonwealth summit hosted by former president Mahinda Rajapakse in November 2013.
On the first day of his visit to Lanka on Friday, Modi will hold summit talks with Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena who was in India last month on his first foreign trip after assuming office.
“I embark on my visit to Sri Lanka with joy & the confidence that the visit will make India-SL relations even stronger in the years to come,” Modi tweeted yesterday about his three-nation visit.