Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Wednesday said he would credit Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “foreign policy” for Mr. Rajapaksa’s decision to release five convicted Tamil Nadu fishermen. Speaking to The Hindu in an exclusive interaction after he met PM Modi in Kathmandu, President Rajapaksa said, “Since he has come to power PM Modi has opened out to the relationship with Sri Lanka. It is his foreign policy and his outreach that led to my decision.”
When asked if he had decided to free the fishermen, rather than transferring them as sentenced prisoners to India, because he believed the fishermen were innocent, as the Indian government has maintained, Mr. Rajapaksa told The Hindu, “Absolutely not. I was absolutely sure that they were guilty, as our courts had convicted them. But I felt that our friendship with India was more important.” Mr. Rajapaksa confirmed that PM Modi had spoken to him about the conviction of the fishermen in a phone call between them. Sources had also told The Hindu that the PM had sent an emissary with a message for a pardon or release of the fishermen under the 2010 Transfer of Sentenced prisoners agreement between India and Sri Lanka.
President Rajapaksa met with Prime Minister Modi at Kathmandu’s Soaltee Hotel, where they are both staying on Wednesday evening for about half an hour.
Sources said Mr. Modi brought up the issue of maritime security, as the Indian government has been concerned about the presence of Chinese submarines in Sri Lankan and Maldivian harbours. Briefing reporters after the bilateral meeting,
Spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin announced that after Mr. Modi’s meeting with President Rajapaksa and then with Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen, that National Security Advisor Ajit Doval would travel to Colombo and Male at the end of November to take the discussions forward.
Mr. Rajapaksa refused to comment on MDMK leader Vaiko’s decision to mark terror group LTTE chief V. Prabhakaran’s birthday, only saying, “He is a leader in India, what can I say.” During his speech at the SAARC session, Mr. Rajapaksa had said “The defeat of the LTTE has changed equations. But Sri Lanka cannot afford to be complacent as the threat of terror is still very real in the whole region.”
Earlier in the day, both Mr. Rajapaksa and Mr. Modi exchanged warm references during their SAARC inaugural ceremony speeches. While Mr. Rajapaksa complimented Mr. Modi for his idea for a ‘SAARC satellite’ by 2016, Mr. Modi had said, “President Rajapaksa is going into (elections) soon. I wish him good luck.” When asked if he discussed a visit by Prime Minister Modi to Sri Lanka, Mr. Rajapaksa told The Hindu, “If I am re-elected, I would like to invite PM Modi to Sri Lanka at the earliest.”