India conveys concern, Sri Lanka assures safety of Tamils (Roundup)

October 26th, 2008 - 10:56 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghNew Delhi/Chennai, Oct 26 (IANS) India Sunday told Sri Lanka that it needs to take utmost care to protect civilians caught in the dragging ethnic conflict but made it clear that it had no intention of forcing a truce in the campaign against the Tamil Tigers. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee conveyed the message to Basil Rajapaksa, a senior advisor to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in New Delhi.

The president’s special envoy also held talks with National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon.

“India conveyed its concern at the humanitarian situation in the northern part of Sri Lanka, especially of the civilians and internally displaced persons caught in the hostilities, and emphasised the need for unhindered essential relief supplies,” said a joint press statement issued by the two sides after their talks.

“Rajapaksa briefed the Indian authorities of the efforts by the Sri Lanka government to afford relief and ensure the welfare of the civilian population in the North. He assured that the safety and wellbeing of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka is being taken care of,” it said.

The statement said: “As a gesture of goodwill, India has decided to send around 800 tonnes of relief material to Sri Lanka for the affected civilians in the north. The government of Sri Lanka will facilitate the delivery.”

Both sides discussed the need to move towards a “peacefully negotiated political settlement” to the issue and agreed that “terrorism should be countered with resolve”.

Regarding the incidents of firing on Indian fishermen, the sides said in a separate joint statement that they had agreed to put in place practical arrangements to deal with bona fide Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen crossing the international maritime boundary line.

Earlier, Rajapaksa told reporters in New Delhi: “We will look at the humanitarian needs, and every assurance has been given to India.”

Rajapaksa also told Mukherjee about the steps taken by the Sri Lankan government - which his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa heads - to ensure the safety and wellbeing of Tamil civilians in the onslaught against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The military is trying to capture the LTTE-held areas in the island’s north. The heavy fighting has dislocated tens of thousands and led to, according to Tamil politicians, food and medicine shortages in the region.

“Yes, that issue was brought up and we will take a positive look on it,” Rajapaksa replied, when asked if Sri Lanka will allow medical aid from India to reach the island’s embattled northern region.

Mukherjee and Menon told Rajapaksa about the need to find a political solution to the decades-old ethnic feud, respecting the legitimate rights of the minorities, the Tamils included, an official source said.

The issue of finding practical arrangements to prevent incidents of firing by the Sri Lankan Navy on Indian fishermen also figured in the discussions.

Rajapaksa’s meeting with Narayanan lasted two and a half hours and was described as “a working lunch”.

Rajapaksa’s visit comes in the wake of growing concern in India about the plight of Tamil civilians caught in the military offensive in Sri Lanka.

With Tamil Nadu MPs creating a storm, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke to the Sri Lankan president this month and asked him to ensure the safety of Tamil civilians at all costs.

External Affairs Minister Mukherjee later went to Chennai to brief Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi about the discussions with the Sri Lankan president’s special envoy.

After their three-hour meet, Karunanidhi assured Mukherjee that his party’s MPs will not insist on quitting parliament.

“Karunanidhi has assured (me) that the DMK will not precipitate the issue,” Mukherjee told reporters after a three-hour meeting with the chief minister here.

The DMK chief too told reporters soon afterwards: “I will certainly not create a problem for the central government.”

“Conditions to start peaceful, political negotiations do not seem to have serious impediments at present. However, obviously a 40-year-old problem cannot be sorted out in four days,” he added, commenting on the aspects of a ceasefire between the warring Sri Lankan Army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

A meeting of the DMK and its allies this month resolved that all MPs from Tamil Nadu would resign if India failed to convince Sri Lanka to call off its military offensive against the Tamil Tigers. Tamil Nadu leaders say the fighting has seriously affected Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka’s north.

Mukherjee said: “India will not insist on a ceasefire between the Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE as we are not signatories to the ceasefire agreement. Attempts will be made to ensure a resolution of the issue through peaceful political process and negotiations.”

Admitting that India supplied a few “non-lethal” equipment to the island’s government, Mukherjee said senior personnel of various nations’ armies were routinely trained in Indian military academies.

“This is a routine exercise and our officers visit such academies all over the world. Some of the defence equipment (supplied to Sri Lanka) have a role in defending our vital installations in south India as well,” Mukherjee pointed out.

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