India, Sri Lanka are ‘genuine friends’: President Rajapaksa’s adviser

October 27th, 2008 - 12:49 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 27 (IANS) Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s adviser said Monday after talks with Indian leaders that New Delhi and Colombo were “genuine friends” and that his country would keep civilian casualties in the war against the Tamil Tigers “to the very minimum”.Basil Rajapaksa also said that torrential rains and flooding had affected Tamils displaced by the fighting in the north and that India had pledged to provide food and medicines for them. He added that UN agencies would visit the war zone to assess the situation.

“Both countries are proving to be genuine friends. This is true for the people of the two countries too,” Rajapaksa told IANS, a day after meeting External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and other officials.

“India has really proved to be a real friend. They are friends of Sri Lanka,” said Rajapaksa, who is also a brother of the Sri Lankan president. “We found they (India) have understood very well our problems.”

His remarks followed extensive discussions on the situation in his country with Indian officials in the wake of mass protests in Tamil Nadu demanding a ceasefire and an end to civilian suffering in the north. The Sri Lankan military says it is advancing towards Kilinochchi town, the political hub of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

India has categorically ruled out the possibility of forcing a truce in Sri Lanka, where fighting has left thousands dead and displaced Tamil civilians who some accounts say number up to 250,000.

On Sunday, after Mukherjee briefed Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi about his discussions with Rajapaksa earlier in the day, the DMK chief declared a virtual end to the crisis sparked by his party’s threat to quit the Indian parliament if a ceasefire was not enforced by Oct 29.

“We also realise that we need to do everything we can do for the safety of civilians (in the war zone). We are discussing (this issue with India),” said Rajapaksa. “We want to ensure zero civilian casualties or at least keep it to the very minimum.”

Providing a gist of his talks here, Rajapaksa told IANS: “There are certain hardships (to civilians). We agree. We want to minimise them. There are no civilians now in Kilinochchi. They have gone deep into LTTE territory, beyond our firing range.

“In Kilinochchi town, no government office is functioning, only the hospital is operational. That too is government controlled. All civilians have moved out. If there are some in Kilinochchi, they are LTTE cadres.”

He disputed the figure of internally displaced people, or IDPs. Most media reports they number up to 250,000 in the north, where the LTTE fully holds Mullaitivu district and almost the whole of Kilinochchi district.

“The whole population (in the region) is 250,000. Everyone is not IDP. By IDPs we mean those we have to give ration to.

“In Mullaitivu people are still in their houses but they have no buying power. For the sake of giving ration, we call them IDPs. Only the people in Mannar and Kilinochchi districts are displaced.

“Now the rains have started, there are floods. People are affected. It is our responsibility. We discussed this with the Indian government. They said they would send 100 tonnes of food and medicines.

“For distribution we will have discussions every week with the Indian high commissioner in Colombo. Sri Lanka will have the distribution network. All UN organizations will visit the area. They will provide us information.”

Crediting New Delhi with having “very good information” about the Sri Lanka situation, Rajapaksa also said that Colombo “understands very well” why there have been vocal protests in Tamil Nadu about his country.

He referred to the problems of the Indian fishing community in passing, saying: “Fishermen don’t care for the international maritime boundary. They go where the fish is.”

Fishermen in Tamil Nadu, separated from Sri Lanka by a strip of sea, have accused the Sri Lankan Navy of firing at them. Colombo at times denies the charge and at times says it will not allow such firing to take place.

Referring to the LTTE, Rajapaksa said his government’s attempt was to “isolate from the (Tamil) people” LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his intelligence chief who goes by the nom de guerre Pottu Amman.

“There are a few things the government is doing. Suppose if there are two fishes in a bottle, we can either take the water out or the fishes out. The government is doing both. We want to isolate them from the people. But we are not against individuals or even terrorists. We are only against terror.”

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