Menon holds talks with SL President Rajapaksa | world | Hindustan Times
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Menon holds talks with SL President Rajapaksa

Indian foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon and SL president Rajapaksa discussed 'issues of bilateral interest and exchange views on the current development' in the north, where troops are fighting Tamil Tigers.

world Updated: Jan 17, 2009 13:19 IST

Visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon on Saturday held talks with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, 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 Sri Lanka's north.

Official sources said that the meeting took place on Saturday morning in the central hill district of Kandy where President Rajapaksa and the Indian foreign secretary discussed "issues of bilateral interest and exchange views on the current development" in the war-ravaged north, where troops were fighting the Tamil Tigers in their last bastions.

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

Menon on 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 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 on 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 on Friday.

Foreign Minister Bogollagama, while appreciating the continued "understanding of India on issues of mutual concern", told Menon on Friday that the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka accord was still the key to seeking a political solution to the island's ethnic conflict.

Claiming that the recent decisive victories against the LTTE had offered a "window of opportunity" to fully implement the 1987 Indo-Sri Lankan Accord, Minister Bogollagama said that the government of President Rajapaksa "is currently in the process of exploring several avenues of implementing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution".

The 13th Amendment to Sri Lanka's Constitution was enacted following the Indo-Lanka accord and talks about sharing powers to the nine provincial councils as unit of devolution. The war-ravaged North-East province, merged following the Indo-Lanka Accord, was de-merged nearly 20 years later following a Supreme Court ruling in November 2006.

Meanwhile, the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) said on 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 in a statement, adding that it was negotiating with the parties to the conflict to secure a safe passage.