External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today left for Colombo on a two-day visit during which she is expected to discuss the fishermen’s issue and rights of minority Tamils with the top Sri Lankan leadership. Swaraj and her Sri Lankan counterpart Mangala Samaraweera will co-chair the 9th Joint Commission meeting to discuss key bilateral and regional issues in Colombo later today. The discussions will cover the entire gamut of relationship pertaining to economic cooperation, trade, power and energy, technical and maritime cooperation, social, cultural and educational matters, science and technology, defence cooperation, health, civil aviation, tourism and people-to-people contact.
The joint commission was set up in 1992 as a mechanism to address issues of bilateral cooperation. The last meeting of the Joint Commission was held in New Delhi in January 2013. Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup had said yesterday that the fishermen issue is expected to figure during Swaraj’s meeting with the Lankan leaders. The fishermen issue continues to be a major irritant in the Indo-Lanka ties. Though the fishermen’s associations of the two sides are in regular touch with each other, they have not been able to reach a mutually-acceptable solution to end this problem, Swarup had said, adding that India wants a long-term solution. Sri Lanka accuses Indian fishermen of straying into its territorial waters, while the latter maintain they are only fishing in their traditional areas, especially around Katchatheevu, an islet ceded to Colombo in 1974.
The issue of rights of minority Tamil community is also expected to come up for discussions during Swaraj’s meetings. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had last month said his government was ready to devolve power to minority Tamils under a new Constitution, aimed at resolving the ethnic conflict and achieving reconciliation with Tamils. Swaraj will also call on President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and former president Chandrika Kumaratunga besides meeting other top leaders. She will inaugurate a ‘Rise of Digital India’ exhibition tomorrow as part of ‘Sangam’ festival of India in Sri Lanka 2015-2016. The exhibition will showcase the phenomenal rise of the computing sector and digital technologies in India which is positively impacting the everyday lives of people.