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On terrorist bombing incident in Sri Lanka, travel figures between India and Pakistan and the visit of Foreign Minister of Morocco to India

June 26, 2006

Official Spokesperson: Good evening. The Government of India unreservedly condemns the terrorist bombing incident outside Colombo, Sri Lanka today in which the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Sri Lankan Army, Major General Parami Kulathunga was tragically killed, along with other defence personnel. Several innocent civilians have been seriously injured.

This incident is the latest in a series of recent terrorist attacks which are aimed at undermining the ceasefire and vitiate the environment for a political dialogue.

The Government of India extends its sincere condolences to the Government of Sri Lanka and to the members of the bereaved families. India is determined to stand by the people of Sri Lanka in our common struggle against terrorism, of which both our countries are victims.

It is our view that political processes must be activated through sincere dialogue to arrive at a settlement which takes into account the aspirations of all the sections of the Sri Lankan society, while upholding the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

We welcome the efforts being made by the Government of Sri Lanka to evolve a political consensus in this regard and stand ready to share our own constitutional experience to contribute to this process.

We also have some details on the travel between India and Pakistan this year, which has seen a significant increase. The travel figures for the first 5 months in 2006 indicate that about 1.70 lakh people moved across, both ways, between the two countries, using various modes of transport including air, train, bus and on foot. The details are:

By air, which includes both by Indian Airlines and Pakistan Airways of which there are 28 flights every week, a total of 83,994 people have traveled.

By train, i.e. by the weekly Thar Express and by the bi-weekly Samjhauta Express a total of 47,697 people have traveled.

By bus, a total of 8,013 people have traveled, while 28425 people crossed Wagah on foot. A total of 903 persons crossed LoC on foot or by bus.

Thus, a total of 1,69,032 people traveled. Clearly, air is the most widely used mode of transport, while train is a close second. Our High Commission has issued in these past five months nearly 33,000 visas.

Samjhauta Express between Delhi & Lahore and Thar Express between Munabao (Rajasthan) and Khokhrapar (Sind) have become important transportation linkages between India and Pakistan. In particular, Thar Express, which commenced in February 2006 with an average of 200 passengers per week, has gained in popularity carrying between 700 and 800 passengers a week by June 2006.

As you know the Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Morocco, Mr. Mohammed Benaissa is on an official visit to India from 25-27 June 2006. India's relations with Morocco are marked by warmth and friendly cooperation, and are multifaceted and significant. Both India and Morocco are pluralistic societies with diverse cultural trends.

During the visit Foreign Minister had discussions with Minister of State for External Affairs Shri E. Ahamed and discussed bilateral, regional and multilateral issues of national interest. He also called on the Prime Minster and other dignitaries. This evening, I understand he is calling on the Agriculture Minister as well as Tourism and Culture Minister.

The bilateral relations between the two countries have witnessed significant growth over the last decade as underlined by the exchange of high-level visits. Our former Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Morocco in February 1999. Minister of State for External Affairs Shri E. Ahamed visited Morocco in May 2005. Former Moroccan Prime Minister Abderrahmane Youssoufi visited India in 2000. King Mohammed VIth visited in 2001 and also paid private visits in 2003 and 2005.

The bilateral relations cover many aspects and sectors encompassing political, commercial and cultural cooperation. On the bilateral economic and trade relations, the growing sectors of mutual interest are phosphates, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, power, IT, education, telecommunications and tourism. Bilateral trade saw a steady growth and reached US$ 575 million in 2005. Indian companies are taking increasing interest in Moroccan market for investment and trade. Morocco investment is also flowing into India, particularly in the phosphates sector.

During the visit, also the Foreign Minister who also happens to be a former Culture Minister underlined the possibilities of closer cultural cooperation between the two countries and a number of cultural exchange activities are planned. Indian films are a major hit in Morocco and an annual weeklong festival is held in Morocco. The Cultural Exchange Programme is likely to come into effect next year which will focus on youth exchanges as well as bringing together not just Indian and Moroccan but Asian and African cultures.

Morocco also reiterated its support for India's candidature to UN Security Council.

Question: Regarding the Thar Express which you have said is becoming more popular. How will it become more popular without the consulates in Karachi and Mumbai? What is the state of the consulate in Mumbai? Have we zeroed in one any building?

Official Spokesperson: Certainly, our hope and wish is that the consulates will open as fast as possible and that will certainly boost travel on this route and facilitate the issue of visas. But, notwithstanding that, the figures speak for themselves. There has been an increase. It is for Pakistan to zero in on the building. Everything is being done to facilitate that process as far as Indian Government is concerned, through the state government.

Question: Regarding Sri Lanka, you referred to ‘terrorist bombing'. Would this terrorist mean ‘LTTE' because the Sri Lankan government has blamed the LTTE for the attacks?

Official Spokesperson: I think we have clearly categorized it in our statement. Let me not get into more details.

Question: Anything on the SR (Special Representatives) talks in Beijing?

Official Spokesperson: We will issue something after the talks. They are taking place, in keeping with the momentum of the talks, which has been built up over the last round of talks

Question: Regarding the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister's visit. Was there anything about India's involvement?

Official Spokesperson: I think we did issue a statement after the talks. That's all that I have. But clearly, as I have told you today, our view remains that the political processes must be activated through sincere dialogue and you must come to a settlement within Sri Lanka which takes care of the aspirations of all sections of Sri Lankan society. And in this regard we are ready to share our own constitutional experience to contribute towards the same.

Question: Do you have more information on the release of fishermen by both Indian and Pakistan?

Official Spokesperson: Yes, the situation is that there are 240 Indian fishermen in Pakistan whose nationality has been confirmed, and it is expected that they will be released on 30th June, in keeping with the understanding reached during the Home Secretary level talks in May. There are no fishermen in India who are ready for release, in the sense that to whom consular access has been granted and whose nationality has been confirmed. I may add that there are 30 Pakistani fishermen in custody but the due process of granting consular access and confirming nationality has not yet been gone through. So they do not fit the bill for meeting the 30th June deadline. To complete the picture, in addition to the 240 Indian fishermen who are due for release, there are 192 Indian fishermen along with 118 civilian prisoners, for whom consular access has been sought. 21 Indian civilian prisoners in Pakistan have had their nationality confirmed and are also due for release.

Question: In your statement there is repeated referral to ‘dialogue' and ‘peace process'. Is it not incongruous for a war-like situation?

Official Spokesperson: You cannot give up the option of dialogue and a peaceful settlement. Clearly, war is not a viable option.

Question: In a recent interview President Pervez Musharraf has again said that demilitarization is the only solution to the Kashmir issue…

Official Spokesperson: I don't have a specific response to this interview, but our position on all these matters has been made quite clear.

Thank you.


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