NEW DELHI (TIP): Ahead of the crucial Northern Provincial Council elections in neighbouring Sri Lanka, India has explicitly warned the government there not to take any step which undermines its own commitment to the 13th Amendment and the island nation’s “expressed intention to build upon it”. Alarmed by reports that a key ally of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, JHU or the Heritage Party, was about to move a proposal in Parliament for abolishing the 13th Amendment, foreign minister Salman Khurshid called up his counterpart G L Peiris to expresses concern over the development. A product of the 1987 India-Sri Lanka Accord, the 13th Amendment is seen as key to devolution of power to the provinces and ongoing reconciliation process in the country. The JHU has demanded that provincial councils in the country be scrapped.
Official sources said Khurshid took up with Peiris reports suggesting Lanka was considering doing away with land and police powers from provinces prior to polls. “The foreign minister told his Lankan counterpart that if this happens, India will view it as a retrograde step which is not in the interest of relations between the two countries,” said a source. In an interview to TOI last year, Rajapaksa had said, “There is no justification for any consideration that our commitment to the 13th Amendment is wavering.
At least officially until now, Lanka has concurred with India that “building upon the 13th Amendment, would create conditions for genuine reconciliation”. The upcoming elections in the Northern Province are seen not just by India but also the international community as crucial to Lanka’s commitment to achieving reconciliation with local Tamils. Khurshid also referred to some reports about army acquiring private land in the Northern Province for high security zones. “He emphasized that this would not be in accordance with the LLRC recommendations and such a move would not be helpful,” said a source. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) was set up by Rajapaksa’s government to look into allegations of war crimes from 2002 to until the time the war ended in 2009.
While India believes that close to 70% of Lankan forces are still deployed in northern part of the country, Lanka has dismissed it has LTTE propaganda. Colombo denies the alleged continuing militarization of the region saying that while the troop strength was 27,000 in Jaffna in December 2009, the figure had come down to 15,000 in June, 2012.