Mukherjee is coming on our invitation: Colombo (Third Lead)

January 27th, 2009 - 4:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghColombo/New Delhi, Jan 27 (IANS) Sri Lanka Tuesday made it clear that Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee was visiting Colombo “in response to an invitation” extended by the government of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry in a statement said Mukherjee “will in response to an invitation, arrive in Colombo this (Tuesday) evening to meet with President Mahinda Rajapaksa”.

“Minister Mukherjee’s visit, which takes place at a time of repeated successes in the security operations to free the civilian population from the terror of the LTTE, is in keeping with the tradition of regular, frank and constructive dialogue between India and Sri Lanka at the highest levels of political leadership, on important matters of mutual interest,” the foreign ministry statement said.

The statement, however, did not say anything about the agenda of the bilateral talks.

The statement comes amid reports that Mukherjee was rushing to Colombo due to mounting pressure from Tamil Nadu political party leaders, including Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, whose DMK is a coalition partner in the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the centre, over the plight of Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, Pranab Mukherjee said in New Delhi Tuesday that India would never tolerate the Tamil Tigers but was worried about the Tamil civilians caught in the war between the rebels and Colombo.

“We are for the fight against terrorists and all sorts of terrorism. Therefore we have no sympathy for any terrorist activity indulged by any organisation, and particularly the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) is a banned organisation in India,” Mukherjee said hours before leaving for Colombo.

“But we are concerned about the plight of the civilians and we shall have to see how the civilians can be protected and do not become the hapless victims of the situation,” he told reporters.

Mukherjee’s comments came as Sri Lankan troops announced after capturing the LTTE garrison town of Mullaitivu that 95 percent of the dragging war against the Tamil Tigers was over.

Mukherjee recalled that political parties from Tamil Nadu had met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier and urged him to look into “the sad plight of civilian Tamils who have become the victims of the fight between the LTTE and Sri Lankan armed forces.

“At that point of time, he (prime minister) said he may send (me) to Sri Lanka for discussions with Sri Lankan authorities.”

Mukherjee said Indian and Sri Lankan officials had discussed the situation in the island nation many times, including over the telephone.

The minister said he expected to meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa “and other authorities to see what best could be done” at a time when fighting rages near areas in Mullaitivu district where several thousands of Tamil civilians are concentrated.

Sri Lanka has accused the LTTE of using the civilians, estimated between 100,000 and 250,000, as human shield. The Tigers say that the civilians have taken shelter with them for their own protection.

Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon visited Colombo in the middle of this month and met President Rajapaksa and other senior leaders in the government and discussed a variety of issues.

The civilian suffering in Sri Lanka’s war zone has also been taken up by the United Nations, which has called upon both Colombo and the Tigers to respect non-combatants.

India outlawed the LTTE after it masterminded the 1991 assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. In recent times, political parties in Tamil Nadu, where Gandhi’s killing took place, have been pressing India to get pro-active vis-a-vis Sri Lanka.

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