India asks LTTE to give up weapons, Tamil MPs enraged (Roundup)February 18th, 2009 - 6:03 pm ICT by IANS
New Delhi, Feb 18 (IANS) Unveiling its ambition to play a pro-active role in Sri Lanka, India Wednesday bluntly told the Tamil Tigers to give up their weaponry and said it was ready to work with Colombo to evacuate the thousands of civilians trapped in the war zone.
And conveying its “pain and anguish” over the killing of civilians in the conflict, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee assured protesting Tamil Nadu MPs in the Lok Sabha that it was committed to doing everything possible to ensure the safety and security of innocent Tamils.
In the same breath, Mukherjee clarified that while India wanted the dragging conflict to end, it could not direct “a sovereign nation” how to conduct its affairs.
MDMK and PMK MPs were, however, were not convinced. They accused the government of speaking the Sri Lankan regime’s language and providing arms and ammunition to Colombo to kill civilians.
Under pressure to act following widespread reports of civilian suffering in fighting between the military and the Tigers, Mukherjee said India was ready to assist in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Sri Lanka’s war-hit northeast.
Speaking even as a section of Tamil MPs interrupted him raising slogans like “Stop the war”, Mukherjee outlined New Delhi’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, Mukherjee 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 persons,” he said.
Mukherjee was referring to thousands of Tamil civilians trapped in a small area in Mullaitivu district where the military has ringed the 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.
Mukherjee said that in the last two weeks, nearly 35,000 civilians had 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.”
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 multi-racial east. “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 (Colombo) and the various communities in pursuit of our common security and prosperity.”
The protesting MPs, dressed in black, said they wanted India to intervene urgently to bring about a ceasefire in Sri Lanka. “India is supporting the Sri Lankan government. The government should intervene to stop the war,” shouted E. Punnuswamy of PMK.
In response, Mukherjee expressed readiness to make “corrections” in his statement if there were any “discrepancies”.
“The government of India has no instrumentality under which it can force a sovereign government to take a particular action. This is not simply possible.
“Each one of us condemns the killing of innocent civilians. We are equally pained and anguished at the development,” he added. “We want the conflict to end in Sri Lanka and Tamils there should get their due… We want this conflict to come to an end.”