Purpose of Foreign Minister’s visit is to put relationship back on track

Sri Lanka’s new government will start its relationship with India on a “clean slate,” Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera told The Hindu ahead of his departure to New Delhi on Saturday.

Coinciding with his trip, the Sri Lankan government released 15 Indian fishermen in its custody, and officials here said the Sri Lankan fishermen, currently in Indian prisons, were also being released.

Mr. Samaraweera said the visit was intended to put the two countries’ relationship back on track after it was “at times strained” when President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government was in power.

In addition to holding bilateral discussions with his counterpart Sushma Swaraj, Minister Samaraweera will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Congress President Sonia Gandhi over the next couple of days.

Following Sri Lanka’s January 8 elections in which President Rajapaksa was defeated by his former Cabinet member, New Delhi wasted no time in reaching out to the new leadership. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the first international leader to congratulate President Maithripala Sirisena, just as clear signs of his victory began emerging on the morning of January 9.

Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj called Mr. Samaraweera soon after he assumed charge as Foreign Minister and invited him to New Delhi. The two leaders are long time friends, and have interacted closely when they held the telecommunications portfolio on either side of the Palk Strait in the 1990s.

“The fact that as Foreign Minister I have undertaken my first overseas visit to India signifies the importance that President Sirisena’s government places on strengthening and improving bilateral ties with India,” Mr. Samaraweera said.

Sources in the Foreign Ministry here said Colombo hoped to discuss a range of issues and India’s support at the March session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The governement, a key source said, was inclined to radically change the human rights situation and address concerns of the island’s minorities, and wanted New Delhi to know that.

Diplomatic sources in New Delhi said the Foreign Ministry, through the scheduled meetings, hoped to understand the policy of Sri Lanka’s new dispensation on wide-ranging themes of bilateral interest, including devolution and human rights.