Give up your weapons, India tells LTTE (Lead)

February 18th, 2009 - 3:04 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 18 (IANS) India Wednesday unveiled its intention to play a proactive role in Sri Lanka by asking the Tamil Tigers to give up their weapons and said it was ready to work with Colombo to evacuate civilians caught up in the war zone.
Under pressure to act following widespread reports of civilian suffering in fighting between the military and the Tigers, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told the Lok Sabha that India was also ready to assist in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Sri Lanka’s war-hit northeast.

Speaking even as a section of MPs from Tamil Nadu interrupted him raising slogans like “Stop the war”, Mukherjee outlined at length the government’s thinking on Sri Lanka, where the military has almost overwhelmed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

“As the conflict enters what may be the final phase of military operations, the LTTE would best serve the interest of the Tamils by immediately releasing all civilians (in its zone) and laying down arms,” he said.

In one of the most critical statements ever against the LTTE, Mukherjee recalled that it was an outlawed group in India and accused the Tigers of having “done much damage to the Tamil community”.

“India is ready to facilitate the evacuation of civilians trapped in the area of conflict, working with the government of Sri Lanka and the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) who would take responsibility for the security, screening and rehabilitation of these internally displaced persons,” he said.

Mukherjee was referring to thousands of Tamil civilians who have been trapped in a small area in Mullaitivu district where the military has ringed the LTTE guerrillas.

International rights groups have accused the military of shelling them and the LTTE of preventing them from leaving the area. Both have denied the allegations.

In his statement, Mukherjee said that in the last two weeks, nearly 35,000 civilians have come out of LTTE held areas.

“Sadly, some of those escaping from the conflict have been caught in crossfire, and in recent incidents have been stopped and even killed by LTTE cadres,” he said.

The minister said “a serious source of concern to us has been the condition of civilians and internally displaced persons, mostly Tamil, caught in the zone of conflict… The LTTE were reportedly using them as human shields”.

He said India’s strong concerns for the safety, security and welfare of the civilians “have led us to stay actively engaged to prevent a further deterioration of humanitarian conditions”.

At the same time, Mukherjee urged Sri Lanka to undertake a “normal democratic political process” in the Tamil-majority north and multiracial east”.

“In our view, after 23 years of conflict, there is today a political opportunity to restore life to normalcy in the northern province and throughout Sri Lanka…

“The full implementation of the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution would be a significant first step.

“Honourable members would recall the 13th amendment was introduced to give effect to the India-Sri Lanka accord in 1987. Going beyond the 13th amendment on the question of devolution of powers would be significant.”

He added that New Delhi was ready to work with Colombo “in their important tasks of rehabilitation and reconstruction which lie ahead in Sri Lanka, particularly the north and east…

“The government will continue to stay engaged in the process of bringing enduring peace to Sri Lanka, working with the government of Sri Lanka and the various communities in Sri Lanka in pursuit of our common security and prosperity.”

Members from the PMK and MDMK voiced their unhappiness with Mukherjee’s statement by staging noisy protests near the speaker’s chair, leading to the Lok Sabha being adjourned briefly. The protesting MPs, all dressed in black, said they wanted India to intervene urgently to bring about a ceasefire in Sri Lanka.

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