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News18 » India
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PM Narendra Modi seeks a life of peace and dignity for Tamils in Sri Lanka

However, he made it clear that "unity and integrity" of Sri Lanka, which fought a three decades war with the LTTE over its demand for a separate Tamil Eelam, "are paramount" for India.

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Updated:March 13, 2015, 9:24 PM IST
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PM Narendra Modi seeks a life of peace and dignity for Tamils in Sri Lanka
However, he made it clear that "unity and integrity" of Sri Lanka, which fought a three decades war with the LTTE over its demand for a separate Tamil Eelam, "are paramount" for India.

Colombo: Breaking a 28-year-long hiatus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday embarked on an important visit to Sri Lanka with the message that India favoured a life of equality, justice, peace and dignity for Tamils in its "new journey" of peace and reconciliation.

The first prime minister to visit the island after Rajiv Gandhi's trip in 1987 after which the bilateral relationship had undergone several twists and turns while cash-rich China made its push, Modi met President Maithripala Sirisena and expressed his "admiration" for his efforts to build an inclusive future for Sri Lanka.

However, he made it clear that "unity and integrity" of Sri Lanka, which fought a three decades war with the LTTE over its demand for a separate Tamil Eelam, "are paramount" for India.

"It is rooted in our interest. It stems from our own fundamental beliefs in this principle," he declared in his address to Sri Lankan Parliament. The two leaders met at delegation level after which four agreements that included easing of visa regulations were signed.

Reflecting their desire to give a push to their economic ties, the two countries also took steps to simplify trade and reduce non-tariff barriers on both sides under an agreement on customs cooperation.

At a joint press meet later, the Prime Minister himself referred to the significance of the visit, saying it "helps us understand each other better, finds solution to mutual concerns and move our relationship forward."

On his part, President Sirisena said, "We have seen the weakening of links between the two countries at different times of rule (in both countries). This is the reason why it took 28 years for an Indian PM to visit Sri Lanka."

Voicing India's support to efforts to build a future that accommodates the aspirations of all societies including Tamils for a life of equality, justice, peace and dignity in a united Lanka, the Prime Minister said, "We believe that early and full implementation of the 13th Amendment and going beyond it would contribute to this process."

Modi, who had discussed the fishermen's issue - a major irritant in bilateral ties - with Sirisena, said this complex question involves livelihood and humanitarian concerns on both sides.

"This complex issue involves livelihood and humanitarian concerns on both sides. We should handle it from this perspective. At the same time, we need to find a long term solution to this issue," he said in remarks that assumes significance following Premier Ranil Wikcremasinghe's controversial statement last week that intruding Indian fishermen would be shot by Sri Lankan Navy.

India has already conveyed its displeasure over the remarks when External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Colombo last week.

Modi suggested that fishermen's associations of India and Sri Lanka should meet at the earliest to find a mutually acceptable arrangement. It can then be taken forward by both governments.

In his address to Parliament, Modi said, "Sri Lanka has lived through decades of tragic violence and conflict. You have successfully defeated terrorism and brought the conflict to an end.

"You now stand at a moment of historic opportunity to win the hearts and heal the wounds across all sections of society." Noting that recent elections in Sri Lanka have reflected the collective voice of the nation - the hope for change, reconciliation and unity, he said the steps that the government has taken in recent times were bold and admirable.

"They represent a new beginning. I am confident of a future of Sri Lanka, defined by unity and integrity; peace and harmony; and, opportunity and dignity for everyone. I believe in Sri Lanka's ability to achieve it," Modi said to thumping of desk from MPs.

Modi, who was received at the airport by Wikcremasinghe on his arrival to this island nation before dawn on the third and final leg of his three-nation tour, said he was conscious of the significance of his visit, noting that it is the first standalone bilateral visit to Lanka by an Indian Premier.

Sirisena in his remarks said Sri Lankan government and its people are so fortunate that the Indian Prime Minister came to visit the country, calling it a "blessing". Modi also announced a fresh line of credit and an enhanced currency swap agreement besides offering Indian assistance to develop Trincomalee town as a petroleum hub.

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