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Akhila Reddy Asked: What is the current status of India-Sri Lanka relations especially in view of the outcome of the elections in the Northern Province?

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  • Gulbin Sultana replies: The historic northern provincial council elections were held on September 21, 2013. In this election, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) won 30 out of 38 seats. It is being speculated that despite its overwhelming victory, the TNA is going to face many challenges in the council to deliver on the commitments made to the people during its election campaign. Attempts to weaken or even eliminate the provincial council through constitutional changes too cannot be ruled out.

    Though India had expressed its satisfaction on the conduct of the northern provincial council elections, it remains wary of the fact that the Sri Lankan Government is yet to implement various other commitments made to the international community, including the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. Though Indian prime minister’s decision not to attend the 23rd Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo could be disappointing for the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government, it is too early to assess its likely impact on the Indo-Sri Lanka relations.

    Meanwhile, it is also important to take note of the developments in the Indo-Lanka relations immediately after the provincial council elections. Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid had made a two-day official visit to Sri Lanka on October 7- 8, 2013. During Khurshid’s visit, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for technical assistance in support of the 10-year National Plan for a Trilingual Sri Lanka, and eight agreements related to construction of Sampur coal power plant in Trincomalee District, were signed. Khurshid also visited Jaffna and distributed certificates to some of the beneficiaries of the Second Indian Housing Project, whereby houses are being constructed with the grant provided by the Indian Government amounting to INR 2,30,000 per house. He also distributed certificates to some of the beneficiaries of small business enterprises which were destroyed during the war.

    The issue of fishermen continue to pose a major challenge for the India-Sri Lanka relations. In 2011, two Indian fishermen were killed by the Sri Lanka Navy. Though no Indian fishermen have been killed since then, but several of them have been arrested and continue to be detained in Sri Lankan jails. In recent times, Sri Lanka has moved away from its earlier ‘catch and release’ approach and has adopted the method of detaining and producing the fishermen in the court. Under the new method, the fishermen will be released only after they plead guilty and their boats will be confiscated. The issue was taken up for discussion during Minister Khurshid’s visit as well as during the 23rd International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) Meeting onboard the Indian Naval Ship INS Sukanya off Kankesanthurai on November 1, 2013. During the IMBL meeting, the Navy officials of the two countries also discussed several other issues of bilateral concern like smuggling of narcotics across the IMBL and strengthening of the maritime security in the area. Subsequently, in order to enhance the capability of maritime interdiction operations through Visit Board Search and Seize (VBSS) operations, Search and Rescue (SAR) demonstrations, asymmetric threat exercises and helicopter operations, the Joint Indo-Lanka Maritime Fleet Exercise – SLINEX 2013 - was held in the seas off Goa during November 4-8, 2013.