COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- India's foreign minister urged Sri Lanka to continue reconciliation efforts started at the end of the island nation's brutal 30-year conflict with Tamil separatists.
Indian Minister of External Affairs S. M. Krishna, on a four-day visit to Sri Lanka, also praised the Colombo government's efforts to move ahead with recommendations in a report by Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.
"These recommendations, when implemented, would mark a major step forward in the process of genuine national reconciliation, to which the Sri Lankan government is committed," Krishna said.
Among the recommendations from the independent inquiry into the war and its immediate aftermath are gradual devolution and autonomy for the island's northern regions where the majority of Tamils live.
The protracted civil war between the majority Sinhalese federal army and the Tamil rebels ended in 2009. The United Nations estimates around 100,000 people were killed, including up to 7,000 in the final, particularly brutal, year of fighting the Tamil Tigers -- officially called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
The Tigers were struggling for a separate homeland for Tamils in the northeast of the island nation that lies several miles off the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent.
Many Sri Lankan Tamils have family connections with people in southern India, which has led to an often mutually suspicious political relationship between New Delhi and Colombo.
Krishna, whose visit is seen as an effort to smooth relations with Sri Lanka, met with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to discuss improved relations. Topics included investment by Indian businesses in Sri Lanka and bilateral trade, which is approaching $5 billion a year, a report in the Colombopage.com news Web site said.
Also discussed was illegal fishing and arrests of fishermen by both countries.
Krishna stressed that there must be no use of force against the fishermen and that they must be treated in a humane manner and expressed satisfaction that the Joint Working Group on Fisheries, which met recently in Colombo, was able to look at various options to address the issue.
Early last year, India's coast guard and navy were on alert for conflicts between Indian fishermen and Sri Lankan coast guard ships in Palk Bay, the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Strait -- all of which separate India's southern Tamil Nadu state from northwestern Sri Lanka.
The increased alert came after Sri Lanka arrested more than 100 Indian fishermen suspected of fishing illegally in Sri Lankan waters off the Jaffna coast.
Many of the boats used by fishermen of both countries are small wooden vessels suitable for only several men to wield fishing nets. Navigation instruments on board are often non-existent.
After the Sri Lankan arrests, thousands of Indian fishermen refused to go to sea as a protest against their fellow fishermen being "abducted." The arrests also sparked street protests in Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state.
But Krishna said reconciliation, including Sri Lankan government talks with the major Tamil party the Tamil National Alliance, remain paramount for improving relations between both countries.
After the meeting with Rajapaksa, Krishna told reporters it is India's hope the "vision and leadership that resulted in an end to armed conflict will now be employed in the quest for a genuine political reconciliation."
Krishna is also to meet with Tamil political party representatives and officially hand over 10,000 bicycles donated by India to people in the north of Sri Lanka.