By Zacki Jabbar
The first state visit by an Indian leader to Sri Lanka in 28 years is scheduled to take place today(13) with the arrival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Colombo.
The late Rajiv Gandhi, the then Indian leader came to Colombo in 1987 to sign the Indo- Lanka Accord amidst strong opposition by Sri Lankan Opposition parties. Relations between the two countries have since improved especially after Maithripala Sirisena was elected President last January.
Describing Sri Lanka as ‘our most important neighbour’ Modi earlier this week said in New Delhi, that his three country tour of Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka stemmed from his desire to maintain frequent contacts with India’s neighbours.
Even though it was six years since the defeat of the LTTE, the Sirisena government is taking no chances; it has thrown a tight security blanket with over a 1,000 policemen including elite commandos on duty to ensure PM Modi’s safety during his two-day visit which would see him travel to Jaffna as well, where he would meet Tamil leaders. His itinerary also includes a visit to the historical city of Anuradhapura.
Modi would be only the second foreign leader to visit the North since British Prime Minister David Cameron flew to Jaffna during the Commonwealth Summit held in Colombo in November 2013.
In Colombo, PM Modi is scheduled to hold talks with President Maithripala Sirisena,Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga,Opposition leader Nimal Sripala de Silva and leaders of several other political parties.
It is learnt that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is likely to call on Modi in Colombo today.
Modi is also scheduled to address Parliament this afternoon, becoming the first Indian Prime Minister to do so since Moraji Desai in February 1979. The first foreign leader to address Sri Lanka’s legislature was Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1962, which was followed by his Prime Minister daughter Indira Gandhi in April 1973.
As a goodwill measure the Sri Lankan President who returned home yesterday after attending the Commonwealth Day celebrations in London, ordered the release of 86 Indian fisherman in Colombo’s custody. New Delhi responded almost immediately by announcing the release of 22 Sri Lankan fisherman along with their boats which had been detained recently.
With the fisher communities of both countries accusing each other of poaching, Modi had during talks with the Srisena in New Delhi suggested ‘bordererss fishing’ as a solution, Cabinet Spokesman and Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne noted adding that the suggestion would be disadvantageous to Sri Lanka’s northern fisherman who with their small boats simply could not compete with the large number of South Indian trawlers which resorted to bottom trawling damaging the marine environment.
He said that the ‘fishing issue’ would figure prominently during the two leaders talks in Colombo which would be followed by a meeting of Sri Lankan and South Indian Fisherman’s Associations in Chennai.