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We are monitoring the situation in Sri Lanka: India

March 17, 2010 08:41 IST

Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, who visited Sri Lanka last week and met President Mahinda Rajapakse and senior Sri Lankan officials, has said that India had been reassured over the Lankan government's efforts to return internally-displaced persons to their homes and also hopeful over a future political process to alleviate the lot of the Tamil-speaking community and other minorities.

Rao told, "Sri Lanka is in the midst of the campaign for its parliamentary elections and so I think the focus is on the elections now and what will happen on April 8 and what the outcome of the election will be."

But she said that in her meetings, including that with President Rajapakse, "as far as the IDP's are concerned, what I was told was that the number has gone down to 70,000 -- this was like over 200,000 people at the height after the conflict (with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam)."

Rao said she had also been informed that these people were allowed to come in and out of the camps.

The Foreign Secretary, a former Indian ambassador to Sri Lanka, who is familiar with the lay of the land in the island nation, said, "The major focus now will be on reconstruction and restoration of normal living conditions in Killinochi and Mullaitivu (Most IDPs belong to these two towns)."

"There are still numbers to be resettled, but I think the major focus now has to be on the regeneration of livelihoods in the northern part of the country, Jaffna peninsula, Wanni, Vavuniya, Killinochai and Mullaitivu. Restoration of livelihoods, businesses, educational institutions, which also need faculty, courses to be restored, hospitals, health-care, railways, roads -- this is where the focus needs to be," she added.

Politically, some of the designs and aspirations of the Tamil-speaking minorities of Sri Lanka can be addressed and that includes the Muslims as well in Batticaloa, and in the eastern province, she said.

Rao pointed out that India is Sri Lanka's closest neighbour and is watching the situation there very carefully.
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC