Indian PM in Sri Lanka, takes IAF chopper to Colombo(Evening Roundup)

August 1st, 2008 - 7:43 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By M.R. Narayan Swamy
Colombo, Aug 1 (IANS) Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived in Sri Lanka Friday under an imposing security blanket, flying from the international airport to nearby Colombo in an Indian Air Force (IAF) Mi-17 helicopter. As Sri Lanka prepared to host a two-day SAARC summit from Saturday, Manmohan Singh became the first Congress prime minister to come to the island nation since Rajiv Gandhi’s historic visit in July 1987 and after Atal Bihar Vajpayee’s July 1998 trip.

After receiving a red carpet welcome at Sri Lanka’s only international airport, Manmohan Singh boarded one of the three IAF Mi-17 choppers to reach a virtual curfew-bound Colombo, about 40 km away.

Without wasting much time, Manmohan Singh opened talks on bilateral issues with President Mahinda Rajapaksa. He then met a section of political leaders including from the Tamil minority as well as members of the Indian ethnic community.

The business district of Colombo looked as if it had been placed under curfew, with entire streets located close to hotels where the visiting leaders are staying declared out of bounds for public.

The 15th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit has brought together leaders from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, the Maldives and hosts Sri Lanka.

This is the biggest international event seen in a long time in Sri Lanka, where a dragging Tamil separatist drive has claimed over 70,000 lives.

Even before the prime minister touched down in Sri Lanka, one of his top officials admitted that recent terror attacks in India showed that the capacity of the terrorists in the country had grown.

Serial bombings killed 61 people in Jaipur in May, and similar back-to-back attacks in Bangalore (July 25) and in Ahmedabad (July 26) left at least 50 people dead.

“While the Ahmedabad and Jaipur blasts were similar, in Bangalore there was a great deal of sophistication.” The official said that there were “some leads but we are not clear about the message behind the attack”.

Asked if terrorists were getting a substantial hold within the country, the official said: “Definitely (the attacks) reflect that the capacity of the terrorists has grown.”

He said the government was unaware of the Indian Mujahideen, which claimed responsibility for the Jaipur and Ahmedabad blasts. But there did seem to be some local involvement.

The official, however, made it clear that the Pakistani intelligence was to blame for the July 7 bombing of the Indian mission in Kabul that killed some 50 people, including two Indian diplomats.

“The message of Kabul was very clear - get out of Afghanistan.”

The official also referred to “so many power centres in Pakistan” and said this was not so when President Pervez Musharraf was the supreme authority in the country.

India-Pakistan interactions are expected to overshadow the SAARC summit. On Saturday, India will hand over the chairmanship of SAARC to Sri Lanka.

In a statement before his departure, the prime minister said: “Today, there is a realisation amongst SAARC countries that it is only by cooperating within SAARC that we will be able to strengthen ourselves individually and as a region and address the many common challenges that face us.”

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