The highlight of foreign secretary Nirupama Rao’s three-day visit to Sri Lanka beginning on Monday would be her trip to Jaffna — the first ever by an Indian foreign secretary in decades.
In Jaffna, the heartland of Sri Lankan Tamils, Rao is expected to meet both government officials including the governor and mayor and members of the civil society and academics.
On her way back, Rao would be visiting Kilinochchi, where the administrative headquarters of the Tamil Tigers was located, and Mullaitivu, once the rebels’ military nerve centre. It was near Mullaitivu, on the north-east coast where the final battle between the LTTE and government troops was fought. Her visit would be rounded of witha trip to the east coast town of Trincomalee.
Rao’s visit — to be followed by foreign minister SM Krishna’s Sri Lanka visit in September — to Jaffna and her interaction with non-government actors is being seen as India’s way of reaching out to the community, which has had close, and ancient, links with South India.
India’s non-interference in the final stages of the civil conflict, when the LTTE was surrounded and finally decimated by the army, was interpreted by many in the north as a betrayal. Former Indian envoy to Lanka, Rao’s visit is an attempt to change that view and send across the message that India was against the LTTE but will never abandon the Tamil civilian population.
Accompanied by a team of Indian diplomats, Rao would take stock of the rehabilitation of the 300,000 displaced Tamils. She would also review development projects India is funding in northern districts.