Sri Lanka to continue operations against LTTE, Manmohan urges political solution (Roundup)

October 18th, 2008 - 11:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghColombo/New Delhi, Oct 18 (IANS) Sri Lanka Saturday indicated that its military campaign against the Tamil Tigers will continue, even as it invited Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee to visit Colombo after New Delhi called for a negotiated settlement to the dragging ethnic conflict.Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollgama had invited Mukherjee “to undertake a visit to Sri Lanka at an early date”, said a statement issued in Colombo after a telephonic conversation between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Saturday.

During the conversation, initiated at Rajapaksa’s instance, the president “briefed the Indian leader on the current situation in the North, where the security forces are engaged in an operation to disarm the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) and restore democracy, peace and stability to the region”, the statement said.

Rajapaksa “reiterated that the security forces are under strict instructions to avoid causing any civilian casualties, during this operation”, it added.

“He also informed Dr. Singh that Sri Lanka is mindful and appreciative of the concerns of India regarding the situation in the North, and aware of the context in which these matters have been raised,” the statement said, adding that both leaders had agreed to maintain a dialogue “at a high political level”.

On his part, Manmohan Singh “expressed his deep concern on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the north of Sri Lanka, especially on the plight of the civilians caught in the hostilities”, a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in New Delhi said.

Manmohan Singh “emphasised that the safety and the security of these civilians must be safeguarded at all costs” and asked Colombo to ensure “uninterrupted relief supplies” for the internally displaced persons to address the humanitarian consequences of the military action, the PMO statement said.

It said Manmohan Singh reiterated yet again that there was “no military solution” to the conflict and urged the Sri Lankan leader “to start a political process for a peacefully negotiated political settlement within the framework of a united Sri Lanka”.

However, the Sri Lankan foreign ministry statement made no reference to these two key issues.

Rajapaksa also assured the prime minister that all necessary measures are being taken to ensure the safety and well being of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka, according to the PMO statement.

With 14 MPs of DMK, a key ally of his government and the ruling party of Tamil Nadu, handing over post-dated resignations over the situation in Sri Lanka, Manmohan Singh stressed that “the rights and the welfare of the Tamil community of Sri Lanka should not get enmeshed in the ongoing hostilities against the LTTE”.

This was the second message from the prime minister and the fourth from New Delhi to Colombo in the last four days over the situation in Sri Lanka that has stirred a political storm in India with MPs from Tamil Nadu threatening to resign if the violence against civilians was not stopped in Lanka.

Manmohan Singh also asked Rajapaksa to instruct the Sri Lankan Navy to desist from firing on Indian fishermen and reiterated that the killing of fishermen is “unacceptable”.

The two leaders agreed to work on practical arrangements to prevent such incidents.

Rajapaksa is likely to send a senior envoy to New Delhi early next week to discuss issues raised by the Manmohan Singh government.

Manmohan Singh’s conversation with the Sri Lankan president comes a day after Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon summoned Sri Lankan High Commissioner C.R. Jayasinghe and asked Colombo to “take steps” to stop the violence that has severely affected Tamil civilians in the island nation.

In an interview to The Hindu newspaper published Friday, Rajapaksa had said his government was committed to finding “a just and enduring political solution” and stressed that there were “no military solutions to political questions”.

External Affairs Minister Mukherjee Thursday had sent a stern message to Colombo asking it to shun “military means” and pursue a political settlement that respects the human rights of minorities in the island nation.

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