Sri Lanka plays down interaction with India

Colombo, July 4 (IANS) A Sri Lankan minister Thursday played down intensified diplomatic engagement with India over power devolution to its Tamil minority, saying it was merely to keep New Delhi "informed".

Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, who is also President Mahinda Rajapaksa's brother, flew to New Delhi to meet with top officials including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

He will seek to explain the Sri Lankan government's plans on devolving power to the Tamil minority, cabinet spokesman and Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said.

The move came after Manmohan Singh expressed "dismay" over Colombo's plans to roll back power devolution under the 13th amendment to its constitution, made with the Indian intervention of 1987.

After Sri Lanka crushed the Tamil Tigers in 2009, President Rajapaksa pledged to the UN and India that a political solution would be found by implementing the 13th amendment.

But despite the lapse of more than four years, Colombo has failed to deliver on those promises.

Rambukwella acknowledged that the government was keen to revamp land and police powers under the 13th amendment but insisted that the interaction with India was merely a "courtesy".

"The government of Sri Lanka has scientifically evaluated the situation and found that these two areas, police and land powers, have to be reviewed, revisited and it is by common courtesy since the 13th amendment stems from Rajiv-J.R, heads of two states," he said, referring to the late Rajiv Gandhi and J.R. Jayewardene who signed a bilateral pact in 1987.

That agreement allowed India to deploy troops in Sri Lanka's northeast, where they ended up fighting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam after it refused to surrenders its large arsenal.

"Therefore it is common courtesy to sort of have this discussion to inform the signatories to the agreement," the minister said.

"On that basis, a member of the cabinet nominated and designated by the president is visiting India," he said.

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