Pushing for national reconciliation in Sri Lanka, India on Saturday opened its consulate in Jaffna, the Tamil heartland, and inaugurated the Northern Railway lines for which New Delhi has pledged a $800-million credit that will spur the reconstruction of the war-ravaged northern region.
On the penultimate day of his four-day visit here, Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna inaugurated the Consulate General's office in Jaffna that will be headed by V. Mahalingam, a former head of the passport office in New Delhi.
Present on the occasion were Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, who is also a former Indian envoy to Sri Lanka, and some Sri Lankan MPs.
Speaking on the occasion, Krishna said that even as Sri Lanka was focussing on the immediate task of providing relief and rehabilitation to those displaced by the war, long-term reconstruction was vital.
He reiterated India's commitment to help Sri Lanka in this task. And he renewed New Delhi's appeal for a lasting political settlement of the Tamil ethnic issue.
"The end of armed conflict in Sri Lanka in May 2009 provides an unparalleled opportunity to address all outstanding issues in a spirit of understanding and mutual accommodation and to work towards genuine national reconciliation," he said.
"We are convinced that a meaningful devolution package, building upon the 13th Amendment, would create the necessary conditions for a lasting political settlement," Krishna said, referring to the constitutional amendment that for the first time dented Sri Lanka's unitary structure.
"We hope that (a) process of dialogue and discussion would start soon with the participation of all communities. The ultimate goal is to live in dignity and peace," he added.
Jaffna, located in the northern tip of Sri Lanka, is where Tamil militancy began in the 1970s before consuming the entire country with devastating effect.
Besides its high commission in Colombo, India has a consulate in Kandy, in the tea-growing region populated by "Indian Tamils".
Now, besides Jaffna, another consulate has opened in Hambantota, in the Sinhalese-populated south which is the political hub of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
In an ambitious move that can transform the region, Krishna also formally inaugurated works for the reconstruction of the Northern Railway lines with the launch of the Medawachchiya-Madhu line in presence of Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa, Peiris and Transport Minister Kumar Welgama.
"Following the end of armed conflict in Sri Lanka last year, the development partnership between India and Sri Lanka has expanded significantly,” Krishna said.
India has pledged a line of credit of $800 million at concessional rates for various aspects of the Northern Railway project, including reconstruction of railway lines, installation of signalling and telecom systems and the procurement of rolling stock.
"Work will also begin simultaneously on the Madhu-Talaimannar and Omanthai-Pallai railway lines,” Krishna said.
Krishna and Peiris Friday held wide-ranging talks by unveiling projects worth over $1 billion and expanded cooperation in areas ranging from transport and energy to defence and security as New Delhi pressed for a lasting political settlement.
Colombo, on its part, promised that all homeless Tamils -- estimated to have come down to 20,000 from 300,000 in the immediate aftermath of the decimation of Tamil Tiger guerrillas in May last year -- will be resettled by the end of the year.