India to discuss political process in Sri Lanka

January 15th, 2009 - 6:28 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 15 (IANS) Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon will be in Colombo for two days from Friday when he will discuss with Sri Lankan leaders the prospects of initiating a political process in the Tamil-majority north, as the military continues its advance into the last of the areas still held by the Tamil Tigers.Menon is also expected to announce a second round of Indian assistance to the thousands of civilians displaced by war in the northern province. This would mostly be medicines and shelter material. It comes on top of some 1,700 tonnes of food and other goods sent to Sri Lanka in late last year.

Over Friday and Saturday, Menon will meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who oversees the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), presidential advisor Basil Rajapaksa, Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama and Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona to get a detailed assessment of the situation in Sri Lanka.

He will also talk to Tamil and Muslim leaders as well as former prime minister and opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe of the United National Party (UNP).

The visit comes at a time when Sri Lankan troops have brought under their control almost the whole of the northern province, barring Mullaitivu district, as well as the entire eastern province. Sri Lankan leaders have vowed not to talk any more to the LTTE, which seeks to set up a Tamil Eelam state in the country’s north and east.

The trip is also taking place amid intensifying demands in India’s Tamil Nadu state for a truce in Sri Lanka, a plea Colombo has refused to concede.

While India - like the US - is not advocating negotiations between Colombo and the LTTE, it is firm that there can only be a negotiated settlement to the Tamil conflict. New Delhi feels it is for Colombo to decide which political players it should talk to.

One of India’s primary concerns is the civilian suffering on account of the war that has left thousands dead since fighting resumed towards the end of 2005.

India is pressing Sri Lanka to declare a safe corridor for Tamil civilians wanting to leave the LTTE zone. Menon will take up this issue in his interactions.

New Delhi wants to know if relief camps can be set up for such Tamils to meet their everyday needs.

But a key issue figuring in the discussions would be the possibility of starting without further delay a political process in the north so that the region gets a semblance of local administration — a la the east.

A Tamil party formed after a split in the LTTE in 2004 now governs the eastern province, which unlike the north is also home to large numbers of Muslims and Sinhalese, the majority community.

The Indian reading is that starting a political process in the north, which has been under LTTE sway for long, is crucial to Sri Lanka, whose leaders are insistent on militarily defeating the Tigers before going for a political settlement.

The Indian establishment feels that political parties that have faith in the democratic system need to be encouraged in the war-hit north.

Separately, India would provide help to start a rail-bus service between Trincomalee and Batticaloa towns in the eastern province. It would donate buses that can be converted to run on the rails. New Delhi would also assist in opening IT kiosks.

Menon would discuss with Sri Lankan leaders bilateral issues too. This would include a thermal power plant planned in Trincomalee district.

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