Post-LTTE, Sri Lankan Tamil party warms up to India

June 14th, 2009 - 3:48 pm ICT by IANS  

By M.R. Narayan Swamy
New Delhi, June 14 (IANS) The shadow of the Tamil Tigers gone, Sri Lanka’s main Tamil bloc in parliament wants to forge new ties with India.

Widely seen as a political front for the now decimated Tigers, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has just held talks with New Delhi. In 1992 India became the first country to outlaw the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Over the past few days, a four-member TNA delegation led by veteran Tamil politician R. Sampanthan has met External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan as well as Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon here.

The TNA is made up of Tamil politicians and former militants from different outfits who came under one umbrella. Over time, it lost credibility for bowing to the LTTE.

The TNA’s closeness to the LTTE, and the presence in it of a section that was passionately pro-Tigers, clouded its relations with India although Indian leaders remained in touch with its main leaders.

Sampanthan told IANS before leaving New Delhi that in the days when the LTTE fought Sri Lanka, the TNA had certain expectations from India.

“India tried to do what it could but it could not do much. Most probably, it could not do much,” he said, in an apparent reference to repeated calls from the TNA during the height of the war asking New Delhi to pressure Colombo to go for a ceasefire.

That never happened, and pro-LTTE Tamils alleged that New Delhi was providing crucial help to Sri Lanka to destroy the Tigers, who ultimately collapsed last month after a sustained military offensive. India had outlawed the LTTE after the 1991 assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

In a clear hint that earlier tensions should not derail the future, Sampanthan said of TNA and India: “We have to move on. They (India) want to work with us, and we want to work with them. There is no question about that.”

The TNA’s overtures come at a time when its political future looks bleak. The group won most seats in Sri Lanka’s northeast in controversial elections in 2004 when the LTTE lorded over the region.

The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa detests the TNA for speaking for the LTTE. At the same time, it is not in the good books of other Tamil groups that always opposed the Tigers.

In their discussions in New Delhi, Sampanthan and his colleagues spoke about the situation in Sri Lanka, the problems of the thousands displaced by war, and the setting up of military camps in the northeast of the country, the war theatre.

One of their grouses was that the rehabilitation and resettlement of the Tamils must not be left exclusively at the hands of members of the majority Sinhalese community. “This is unacceptable.”

They emphasized that Sri Lanka would have to go for a political solution of the ethnic conflict so that Tamils enjoy some self-governance. “The (Sri Lankan) government’s conduct (on this) is quite questionable,” Sampanthan said.

He also pointed out that Colombo had cut down security provided to TNA MPs.

Some of them clearly feel vulnerable since Sri Lanka’s east is presently ruled by a former Tamil Tiger fighter who broke away from the LTTE in 2004. Similar anti-LTTE Tamils are active in the north as well. And the former LTTE-held region is now firmly in the hands of the military.

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