|Thursday, 23 October 2003|
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New chapter in Indo-Lanka ties
An important clarification on the nature of the defence ties India and Sri Lanka are hoping to wrap-up in the coming months came in the form of an observation made by Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando to the Indian daily, 'The Hindu'. Minister Fernando indicated that what was visualized was a defence cooperation agreement and not a mutual defence pact - an agreement which would oblige the signatory countries to go to each others defence in the event either country, for instance, faces an armed violation of its territorial integrity.
However, a defence cooperation agreement would enable the countries concerned to collaborate in meeting certain of their defence requirements, for instance, the training of security forces personnel in each others countries and the conduct of inter-state trade in weapons.
While this timely clarification would help in eliminating some popular misconceptions which may arise from the deliberations Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has just concluded with the Indian authorities in New Delhi, there is no denying that the talks register a high-water mark in Indo-Lanka relations.
They could be considered the most historic perhaps, since the signing of the Indo-Lanka Pact of 1987, which, among other things, paved the way for the enactment of the 13th amendment to Lanka's constitution. The latter, of course, brought into being the Provincial Councils scheme, which, by hindsight, could be considered a ground-breaking development in the process of finding a solution to our conflict by way of power devolution. The PC system may have earned more brickbats than bouquets but it remains symptomatic of the fact that power devolution cannot be now reversed and rolled-up in the search for a solution.
Coming back to Indo-Lanka defence cooperation, the upcoming agreement, although not providing for mutual defence, could be considered one of the strongest gestures of support by India for Lanka's present search for a negotiated political settlement.
It is also a cogent pointer to the spirit of cooperation which is pervading India's present approach to Sri Lanka.
After all, it should be remembered that for quite some time now, India has chosen not to get proactively involved in Lanka's search for peace, although she has been always supportive of Lanka's efforts at arriving at a just solution. The fact that India has now chosen to make certain concrete commitments to consolidate Indo-Lanka ties, after what seems to have been a long lay-off, provides evidence of a qualitatively new high in Indo-Lanka relations. This is proof, among other things, of the effectiveness of Premier Wickremesinghe's personal diplomacy with Indian leaders.
Besides agreement in a number of other areas, such as civil aviation and the resolution of disputes relating to the detention of fishermen from the two countries by the navies of India and Sri Lanka, the Indo-Lanka talks also reverberated with a ringing endorsement by India of the Lankan Government's present efforts to bring peace.
India, once again, made it amply clear that it supported a negotiated settlement which respected the needs of all our communities, within a united Sri Lanka. Besides, both countries were unanimous in their denunciation of terror in all its forms.
It could then be said that a new chapter has opened in Indo-Lanka relations. This is as it should be because, cooperation with India is a must for our well-being.
Produced by Lake House