Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar has asked the Tamil leadership in Sri Lanka to continue negotiating a political solution with the government, without being fixated on the demand for merging the island’s northern and eastern provinces.

“The Indian Foreign Secretary said we needed to think in terms of alternatives which might provide an answer to the Tamil people’s apprehensions,” Leader of the Opposition R. Sampanthan told The Hindu, after members of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), led by him, met the visiting top diplomat.

Mr. Sampanthan briefed him on pressing issues faced by the Tamil people, including the lack of progress on the release of military-occupied land by the government and lingering concerns about enforced disappearances and detained Tamil political prisoners, a TNA media release said. The delegation updated Mr. Jaishankar about the new Constitution, pointing to the process being “stalled”.

Sri Lanka is drafting a new Constitution, but the country’s minority Tamils are worried about the pace of the exercise. With a section of Sinhalese lawmakers in the south opposing any increase in the power shared with provinces, the process appears to have hit a major roadblock.

Appreciating the Tamil leaders’ concerns over the government’s delay in delivering on its promises on post-war reconciliation, Mr. Jaishankar reportedly assured the TNA that he would raise the issues with President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, whom he met later on Monday.

EPRLF leader and former legislator Suresh Premachandran sought India’s intervention in pressuring the Sri Lankan government on the north-east merger, as per the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987. “I told him that the Tamil people may not accept a political solution without the merger, and that they might continue agitating,” Mr. Premachandran said.

India keen on projects

In response Mr. Jaishankar, who served as political counsellor in Colombo between 1988 and 1990, observed that a lot had happened since the neighbours signed the agreement, such as the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

He suggested that the Tamils continue pushing for a broader political solution rather than be fixated on the merger, TNA sources told The Hindu. Conveying New Delhi’s interest in investing in development projects in the Tamil-majority north and east, Mr. Jaishankar sought the Tamil leaders’ cooperation in the same.

He later met senior Ministers, including Mangala Samaraweera and Malik Samarawickrama, to discuss ongoing initiatives. Sri Lanka hopes to sign a trade pact with India this year.

Offering support to Sri Lanka to tackle drought, Mr. Jaishankar told Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera that India would donate eight water bowsers and 100 tonnes of rice as immediate assistance, according to a press release from the Indian High Commission here. (The Hindu)