Menon, Rajapaksa discuss bilateral ties, political situation

By P. Karunakharan, IANS,

Colombo : Visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa Saturday discussed the prevailing political situation in the island nation, a day after India announced the second instalment of humanitarian assistance amounting to 40 million (Sri Lankan) rupees for the war-affected Tamil civilians in the country’s north.

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The meeting took place Saturday morning in the central hill district of Kandy, official sources said.

The discussion was focused on the “prevailing political situation and economic issues of concern to both the countries”, the government information department said, adding that Rajapaksa explained to the Indian foreign secretary “about the facilities provided by the government to refugees fleeing LTTE terror in the Northern Province”.

“He also mentioned about the scheduled development plans in the Northern Province aimed at improving living standards of people in the war affected region,” it said.

The government last week said it was planning to develop Kilinochchi, the former political headquarters of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the north, with India’s assistance. It is not known if the issue was discussed during Menon’s meeting with the president.

Menon Friday handed over a token consignment of medicines to senior presidential advisor Basil Rajapaksa as part of the humanitarian assistance by India to the people stranded in the northern battle zone.

The first consignment of approximately 1,700 tonnes, comprising 80,000 ready-to-use family packs containing food, clothing and personal hygiene items, arrived in Sri Lanka within three weeks and has already been distributed to those in need with the assistance of the ICRC and the government of Sri Lanka.

The Indian High Commission in a statement said Friday that India “will continue to work with Sri Lanka in meeting the humanitarian needs of the civilian population in northern Sri Lanka”.

Menon has already met Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, leader of the main opposition United National Party (UNP) Ranil Wickremesinghe and leaders of key Muslim and Tamil parties, including the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in Colombo Friday.

The International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) said Friday that it was “extremely concerned that the escalation of fighting had prevented relief supplies from reaching the population in the Wanni since Jan 9.

“Because of ongoing combat operations and the moving front line, tens of thousands of displaced civilians are concentrated in an area so small that there are serious concerns for their physical safety and living conditions, in particular in terms of hygiene,” it said, adding that it was negotiating with the parties to the conflict to secure a safe passage.

However, the Ministry of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services said that it had dispatched a food convey of 34 lorries to the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts Friday.

It said that 14 lorries were sent to Kilinochchi, which was recently captured by the government troops, and the remaining 20 lorries were sent to the LTTE-controlled Mullaitivu district through the respective Divisional Secretaries.

“The government is supplying cooked meals, dry rations, drinking water, electricity, kitchen utensils, clothes, infant food including all other essential items for the Internally Displaced People’s camps,” the ministry said Saturday.