We do not want any conflict situation in the Indian Ocean. We want the Indian Ocean to be a zone of peace and want both India and China to use the Ocean for economic and commercial purposes benefiting all of us. Sri Lanka will be very careful not to allow any country to us our land and sea against India. That will never happen," Sri Lanka's High Commissioner in India Prasad Kariyawasam said.
"China is our old friend and a commercial partner. But India is our close neighbour and is our relation. India is a fountain-head of our civilization. Our proximity to China is equal to India's proximity to China. We are not part of any conflictual relationship. We are not in the habit of taking sides on bilateral issues between other countries, he said in an interview with Bureaucracy Today.
Asked about the fishermen issue, the High Commissioner said that now there are no threats of violence arising as a result of terrorism and counter-terrorism efforts. Indian fishermen have no threat to their lives. We have come to a clear understanding that the Sri Lankan Navy will treat Indian fishermen in a humane manner. We are pained when it is alleged by some Tamil Nadu leaders that Indian fishermen are being harassed by the Sri Lanka Navy. The Navy denies any such incidents.
"During the fishing season, a large number of boats from Tamil Nadu cross the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) and fish in Sri Lankan waters. The Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen of the Northern Province, who are just resuming their livelihood of fishing after the conclusion of the conflict, are very concerned as their waters are being overfished and poached by Tamil Nadu fishermen. Our fishermen, therefore, urge the Sri Lankan Navy and the political parties concerned to protect them," the High Commissioner said.
Sri Lankan fishermen also get caught fishing in Indian waters in Andhra, Orissa and Gujarat and they spent a long time in Indian jails. We recognize it as a human problem, a livelihood issue. We understand that they fish in our waters probably because they got used to fishing in Sri Lanka waters during the conflict and also because fish stocks in Tamil Nadu waters have been exhausted through overfishing as well as the fishing methods of employed by Tamil Nadu fishermen such as the use of monofilament nylon nets and bottom trawling that are harmful to the eco-system and destroy the sea bed. Such methods damage the regeneration of fish.
Referring to India's vote in favour of US sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka and the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva earlier this year, he said "We were disappointed by India's vote, but we have moved on. We understand that India has every right to take its own decisions based on its internal and external compulsions. Relations between India and Sri Lanka are deep and multifaceted. It is also a mature relationship that something like a vote on a Resolution cannot sunder. Events or episodes will not have a lasting negative impact on long-term relations between our two countries."
We openly support India's candidature for permanent membership in UN Security Council. In fact, Sri Lanka was one of the very first countries in the world to officially announce support for India's candidature at the United Nations. We have faith in India to be a responsible power in the region as well as in the world; it is up to India to manifest that.
On Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), the ambassador said "Sri Lanka and India have substantial economic relations. Within the SAARC region, India and Sri Lanka have the highest level of trade. So even without a CEPA, trade between the two countries is doing really well. India is our largest trading partner and largest investor. But there are issues which require further negotiations and clarity. We do agree with the concept of CEPA, but it will materialize only when all stakeholders reach agreement on its content and procedural mechanisms," he added.
Responding to Sri Lanka's vision for Tamils in Sri Lanka, High Commissioner Kariyawasam said Sri Lankan Tamils are our citizens. We treat them equally. Tamil is an official language like Sinhalese. We want the Tamil people of Sri Lanka to feel equal and a number of measures are being implemented towards this end. Step- by –step, the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) are being implemented as well. Sri Lanka is suffering from the effects of the 30 years of conflict. The damage that the conflict caused to the social fabric cannot be erased overnight. We are building structures of governance step-by-step, we are rebuilding infrastructure as well, including houses, hospitals, railways and roads. The people require time and space to heal.
On criticism from Tamil Nadu, he said "Tamil Nadu is naturally interested in the interests and welfare of Tamils in Sri Lanka which is legitimate but sometimes some groups in Tamil Nadu interfere in Sri Lanka's affairs which are not welcome. Some in Tamil Nadu criticize our country on human rights records, on governance structures and make other allegations without visiting the country and observing the ground realities."
"Sri Lanka is home of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. Sinhalese people who speak an Indo-Aryan language are in majority but have a minority complex because of Tamil Nadu. Tamils in Sri Lanka although in minority in Sri Lanka have a majority complex as they have a huge support base across the Palk Strait. Taking in to account this complex majority and minority situation, the Sri Lankan government has proposed a 10-year plan under which Sri Lanka will become a trilingual nation. All Sri Lankans will have to speak Sinhalese, Tamil and English. This will promote better communication and understanding among all people and including in administration, governance, and law enforcement and hopefully, thee majority and minority complex will diminish," the High Commissioner added.