Sri Lanka under Indian pressure to grant Tamils autonomy

Indian PM asks Colombo to devolve powers to provincial councils · Modi's visit is first of an Indian PM over the last 28 years · Main Tamil party demands federal Sri Lanka · Modi seeks to bring Sri Lanka back to Indian sphere of influence

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked his Sri Lankan counterpart Maithripala Sirisena to grant autonomy to the Tamil people as a way to "build a future that accommodates the aspirations of all sections of society." Modi said this in Colombo, during the first visit by an Indian PM to Sri Lanka over the last 28 years, and within the context of India's growing interest to regain influence over its southern neighbour.

In a speech to Sirisena, Modi asked from the Sri Lankan authorities a "full implementation of the 13th Amendment" of the Constitution. This amendment was adopted in 1987 as the result of an India-Sri Lanka deal, and foresaw the creation of autonomous regional councils.

Modi added that "going beyond" the 13th Amendment, i.e. giving more powers to the councils, could "contribute" to  the process of accommodating all the people of Sri Lanka into a "a life of equality, justice, peace and dignity."

The main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), has been calling for years for the merger of Tamil-populated Northern and Eastern provinces in order to form an autonomous Tamil Eelam within a federal Sri Lanka with shared sovereignty.

Sirisena, who became Sri Lankan President in January, said a few weeks ago that he was willing to transfer powers to the councils, but only in the context of a "unitary state."

Modi to visit Tamil capital

In a gesture of obvious symbolism, Indian PM is scheduled to visit not only the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, but also Jaffna, the largest city in the northern Tamil lands.

Modi also said that India will contribute to develop a petroleum hub in the port of Trincomalee, a city also located in the area that the NTA claims as a part of Tamil Eelam. The Indian PM has offered Sri Lanka a 318 million dollar credit line to improve the country's railways.

These developments occur as India struggles to bring Sri Lanka back to its sphere of influence. Former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa had instead pursued closer ties with Indian regional rival China, specially in the fields of infrastructure and defense.

(Image: Narenda Modi / picture by N. Modi's official Flickr account.)

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