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Indo-Lanka relations reaching zenith

India’s relations with Sri Lanka have reached “an unprecedented level of depth and quality today”, said Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon at his meeting with Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama yesterday, during his two-day visit to the island.

The Foreign Secretary observed that it is during difficult times that the true quality of a friendship becomes most evident, and that the Indo-Lanka relationship is one such friendship that has effectively withstood the test of time and adversity.

Minister Bogollagama welcomed Menon to Sri Lanka, and indicated that this visit is a reflection of India’s steadfast friendship with Sri Lanka as well as the maturity of the Indo-Lanka relationship.

The Minister extended the appreciation of the Sri Lankan Government for the continued understanding of India on issues of mutual concern.

Reiterating that the Sri Lankan Government perceives the Indo-Lanka Accord as the key to seeking a political solution to the conflict, the Minister observed that the present juncture offers a window of opportunity to implement the Accord, given the decisive victories gained by the Government in combating LTTE terror on all fronts.

He observed that the government is in the process of exploring several avenues of implementing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

The Minister highlighted the Government’s sincere commitment to evolving a broad-based and an inclusive peace process in order to achieve a durable peace, acceptable to all communities.

Foreign Secretary Menon expressed his appreciation of the sentiments expressed by Minister Bogollagama on the Indo-Lanka Accord and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

Minister Bogollagama and Secretary Menon agreed that a moment of political opportunity has been made available to Sri Lanka today to bring about an inclusive peace process with credible political representation by the Tamil people within the country’s democratic process.

Bogollagama thanked the Indian government for the humanitarian assistance extended during this period to further augment the steps being taken by the Sri Lankan Government to ensure the welfare of civilians in northern Sri Lanka. He welcomed continued humanitarian assistance by India to the affected people.

Secretary Menon extended his appreciation of the proactive role played by Sri Lanka both multilaterally and in the regional context in combating terrorism, and extended the unstinted support of the Indian government in this exercise.

Menon briefed Minister Bogollagama on the current status of the investigation on the Mumbai terror attacks and indicated that India would continue to work closely with Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice.

He emphasised that concerted and collective international action is needed in combating the scourge of trans-national terror.

Minister Bogollagama, indicated that as a country that has itself been the victim of terror which had proliferated with international links and support, Sri Lanka is well placed to understand the gravity of the threat of trans-national terrorism.

He reiterated Sri Lanka’s support in combating terror at every level to secure a sustainable peace within the region.

The Minister also reiterated Sri Lanka’s interest in cooperating with India on maritime security in the Indian Ocean, both bilaterally and within the framework of regional groupings such as BIMSTEC.

Minister Bogollagama expressed the Sri Lankan Government’s satisfaction at the increase in bilateral trade within the framework of the Indo-Lanka Free Trade Agreement, and expressed the government’s desire to work closely with India in upgrading the bilateral FTA to a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in the foreseeable future. The discussions also referred to the need to address Sri Lanka’s widening trade deficit with India in a meaningful manner.

The two sides discussed the Indo-Lanka Joint Commission which last met in 2005, and agreed to look at the possibility of convening the forthcoming session of the Joint Commission after May 2009. It was agreed to convene the sub-committees of the Joint Commission in the interim.

On the delimitation of the outer edge of the Indo-Lanka continental margin, the two sides agreed to further discuss attendant legal issues, and work closely in resolving outstanding issues, in a manner reflective of the close friendship existing between the two countries.

The two sides discussed the progress within SAARC, including issues concerning the Standing Committee and the Council of Ministers sessions due to take place in Colombo.

The Minister observed that he looks forward to a successful outcome at the SAARC Council of Ministers Meeting that would bring on board many issues that concern the region. Secretary Menon pledged the fullest support of the Indian government to SAARC and observed that it looked forward to playing a constructive role in the forthcoming Council of Ministers Meeting.

Minister Bogollagama expressed his appreciation of the role played by the Indian government in releasing Sri Lankan fishermen captured in the Indian waters, and for providing them with safe passage.

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