Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will on Tuesday meet with Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa for the first time since 2012, on what will likely be his last official foreign visit, a two-day summit of leaders of the seven nations participating in the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, BIMSTEC.
The meeting comes just days ahead of a scheduled vote on a resolution calling for an international enquiry into alleged Sri Lankan war crimes at the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Dr. Singh had declined to travel to Sri Lanka for the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit, amidst intense criticism of the country’s human rights record.
Tamil Nadu politicians have criticised the meeting, with Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader K. Karunanidhi writing in a party journal that while Tamils were “seeking a resolution for an independent probe into war crimes in Sri Lanka, Singh is holding talks with Rajapaksa, ignoring sentiments of Tamils”.
Khurshid slams critics:
India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid responded sharply to the criticism, saying “we engage specifically for the welfare of the Tamils of Sri Lanka, and in protecting their welfare and interests”.
“I think someone should ask the 50,000 Tamil families in the Northern Province who have got Indian-built homes what they think of our engagement. I doubt very much that they would want us to cut off contact with Sri Lanka, leaving them with no livelihoods and their children without schools”.
Indian diplomatic sources offered few details of the agenda for the Singh-Rajapaksa meeting, other than saying that all issues between the two countries would be discussed. They also offered no indication on how India would vote on the resolution, saying a draft had yet to be firmed up.
Dr. Singh began his meetings with key regional leaders on Monday, holding talks with Nepal’s new Prime Minister, Sushil Koirala—who stirred comment among media in his country by choosing to travel on a scheduled flight, rather than the chartered aircraft used by other leaders.
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said Mr. Koirala had been “very forthright, very candid and very positive about India-Nepal relations”. The two Prime Ministers’ discussions, Mr. Khurshid said, focussed on Nepal’s constitution-building process, but also addressed infrastructure and economic cooperation.
Dr. Singh also met with Myanmar’s president, Thein Sen, and discussed the progress of bilateral measures to contain insurgent groups operating across the border. The two leaders also discussed work on the construction of an Indian-Myanmar-Thailand highway, and Indian involvement in Myanmar’s gasfields—the tenth-largest in the world.
In addition to Mr. Rajapaksa, the Prime Minister is also due to meet Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bhutan’s Prime Minister Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay, and the eminent Myanmar political leader and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
BIMSTEC is an initiative involve countries linked along the rim of the Bay of Bengal, intended to enhance cooperation on connectivity, trade and investment, energy and climate issues.
“Peace, stability and development in BIMSTEC countries, with over 20% of the world’s population and over US$ 2.5 trillion worth of GDP, is indispensible for the forward march of Asia”, Dr. Singh said in a statement issued on Tuesday