Pranab in Colombo, concerned over Tamil plight (Intro Roundup)January 27th, 2009 - 11:42 pm ICT by IANS
Colombo/New Delhi, Jan 27 (IANS) External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee arrived in Colombo Tuesday night, stressing that India would never sympathise with the Tamil Tigers but worried about Tamil civilians caught in the war between the rebels and Colombo.He arrived at the Bandaranaike International Airport at Katunayake, 28 km north of Colombo, by a special plane from New Delhi.
“I received the Indian foreign minister at the airport and he will meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa tonight itself,” Sri Lanka’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hussain Baila told IANS.
Hours before leaving for Sri Lanka, Mukherjee said: “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) which is a banned organisation in India.”
“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 in New Delhi.
Mukherjee’s comments came as Sri Lankan troops announced after capturing the LTTE garrison town of Mullaitivu that 95 percent of the 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 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’s foreign ministry clarified earlier that Mukherjee was visiting Sri Lanka “in response to (its) invitation”.
“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,” a ministry statement said.
Sri Lanka has accused the LTTE of using the civilians, estimated between 100,000 and 250,000, as human shield. The rebels say the civilians have taken shelter with them for their own protection.
Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon visited Colombo this month and met President Rajapaksa and other 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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