Colombo: Sri Lanka's human rights record came under intense international scrutiny during 2011, a year which also saw Colombo deepen its ties with its giant neighbour India in the face of growing Chinese influence.
   
Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), set up by President Mahinda Rajapaksa mainly to defang international criticism on the alleged rights abuses during the last stages of the ethnic conflict with LTTE, largely exonerated the government forces of deliberately targeting civilians.
   
However, the LLRC conceded that some isolated incidents could have occurred, as it recommended probe if there was evidence of such cases.
   
The commission called for a political settlement of the ethnic conflict with the Tamil community and asked the government to take the initiative for "a serious and structured" dialogue with all political parties, particularly those representing the minorities.
   
The commission's report was in stark contrast to those of the UN Panel of Experts appointed by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the UN special envoy on extra judicial executions and other independent organisations, which found that there were "serious" abuses committed by government forces and the Tamil Tigers, and called for an international inquiry.
   
Turning down the demand for a global probe, the government underlined that Sri Lanka was "a sovereign nation" and there was no need for "international policemen probing its internal issues".
   
During the year, India watched the progress in the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka with keen interest.
    
At his meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York September, President Rajapaksa told him about proposals for devolution of power to areas dominated by the minority Tamils in Sri Lanka's north and the resettlement process of displaced civilians.
   
India had nudged Sri Lanka to quickly follow up the 2009 military victory against the LTTE with a solution to the political aspirations of the Tamil community in the country.
   
India underlined the need for Colombo to expeditiously implement steps to ensure the resettlement and genuine reconciliation, including early return of Internally
Displaced Persons (IDPs) to their homes, restoration of normality in affected areas and to redress the humanitarian concerns of affected families.
   
India had been actively involved in resettlement of Tamil civilians and had alloted Rs 500 crore for carrying out various development activities. Indian assistance was used for building 50,000 houses for the IDPs, providing medical equipment to hospitals, assisting livelihood generation projects, repairs to schools and training centres and infrastructure development by way of restoration of the northern railway track, rehabilitation of Palaly airport and the KKS harbour in the north.
   
With piracy emerging as a major security threat, India and Sri Lanka held 'SLINEX II', their largest ever joint naval exercise off the coast off Trincomalee in September to enhance interoperability between the two navies.
   
Amid the high-level diplomatic contacts, allegations of excesses by the Sri Lankan Navy vis-a-vis Indian fishermen figured high during bilateral talks. India raised the issue at the highest level.
   
China, meanwhile, stepped up efforts for greater influence in Sri Lanka. It repeatedly assured its support to the island nation to safeguard its sovereignty in the face of international pressure on Colombo over alleged rights abuses.
   
On the economic front, China underlined its resolve to bolster Sino-Lanka cooperation in areas like infrastructure, exploitation of energy and resources and tourism.
   
China, which is one of the largest bilateral donor to Sri Lanka committing USD 1.5 billion for its post-war reconstruction plan, has pledged to encourage Chinese companies to take part in the country's development and expand trade and investment.
   
On the domestic front, President Rajapaksa consolidated his hold on the country's politics, with the ruling alliance sweeping a series of local elections as the opposition was beset with internal squabbling.
   
The government made progress in the resettlement of former LTTE cadres and Tamil civilians displaced by the civil war, with only a few thousands remaining to be resettled.
   
But on the core issue of addressing the political aspirations of the Tamil community, the talks between the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the government were deadlocked.
   
Reluctant to accept the TNA as the sole representatives of the Tamils in the country, the government underlined the need for a parliamentary select committee as a parallel process to deliberate on the ethnic question.

(Agencies)