India to Sri Lanka: Protect Tamil civilians at all costs (Lead)

October 22nd, 2008 - 7:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghNew Delhi, Oct 22 (IANS) With Tamil Nadu MPs creating an uproar in parliament over the military offensive in Sri Lanka, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee Wednesday again reminded Colombo of the need for finding a “political solution” to the ethnic conflict and to ensure the safety of Tamil civilians caught in the crossfire. “We have emphasised to the Sri Lankan government that the safety and the security of the civilians must be safeguarded at all costs and that food and essential supplies be allowed to reach them unhindered,” Mukherjee said in a suo moto statement in parliament.

“We have been assured that the safety and well-being of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka will be taken care of,” he said while reiterating India’s “serious concern” over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the north of Sri Lanka.

“The rights and the welfare of the Tamil community of Sri Lanka should not get enmeshed in the ongoing hostilities against the LTTE,” he stressed in the wake of the resignation submitted by 15 MPs of DMK, a key ally of the Manmohan Singh government and the ruling party of Tamil Nadu, over the situation in Sri Lanka.

Mukherjee’s statement came after MPs from Tamil Nadu created an uproar in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament, over the alleged genocide of Tamils in the neighbouring country and asked the government to use political pressure to stop Sri Lanka from continuing the military offensive that has displaced thousands of Tamil civilians.

Mukherjee also announced the visit of Basil Rajapaksa, senior adviser to the Sri Lankan president, to India to discuss issues relating to the welfare of Tamil minorities in the wake of the military offensive in Sri Lanka.

He, however, did not disclose the dates for the visit of Sri Lankan president’s special envoy. Basil Rajapaksa, younger brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is likely to come to India Saturday, official sources said.

Mukherjee is likely to go to Colombo after Basil Rajapaksa’s visit.

Rejecting a military solution to the ethnic conflict, Mukherjee reiterated India’s conviction that Sri Lanka needs to pursue “a peacefully negotiated political settlement within the framework of a united Sri Lanka respecting the legitimate rights of the minorities including the Tamil community”.

The minister also stressed on practical arrangements to prevent firing by Sri Lankan Navy on Indian fishermen and said that New Delhi has taken up the issue with Colombo to ensure the safety of Indian fishermen.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a telephone conversation with President Rajapaksa Saturday had reiterated yet again that there was “no military solution” to the conflict and urged him “to start a political process for a peacefully negotiated political settlement within the framework of a united Sri Lanka”.

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