Manmohan asks Rajapaksa to ensure safety of civilians (Lead)

October 18th, 2008 - 8:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghNew Delhi, Oct 18 (IANS) Amid rising concern in India over the military conflict in Sri Lanka, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Saturday asked President Mahinda Rajapaksa to ensure the safety of civilians “at all costs”, even as he stressed the need for starting a political process for settling the festering ethnic feud in the island nation. Rajapaksa telephoned Manmohan Singh “to discuss the recent developments in Sri Lanka”, a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said.

“During his telephone conversation, the prime minister expressed his deep concern on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the north of Sri Lanka, especially on the plight of the civilians caught in the hostilities,” it said.

Manmohan Singh “emphasised that the safety and the security of these civilians must be safeguarded at all costs” and asked Colombo to ensure “uninterrupted relief supplies” for the internally displaced persons to address the humanitarian consequences of the military action.

Rajapaksa assured the prime minister that all necessary measures are being taken to ensure the safety and well-being of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka, according to the statement.

With 14 MPs of DMK, a key ally of his government and the ruling party of Tamil Nadu, handing over post-dated resignations over the situation in Sri Lanka, Manmohan Singh stressed that “the rights and the welfare of the Tamil community of Sri Lanka should not get enmeshed in the ongoing hostilities against the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam).”

The prime minister underscored yet again that there “no military solution” to the conflict and advised the Sri Lankan leader to “nurture the democratic process in the Eastern Province”.

He urged the president to start a political process for a peacefully negotiated political settlement within the framework of a united Sri Lanka, the statement said after talks between the two leaders.

This was the second message from the prime minister and the fourth from New Delhi to Colombo in the last four days over the situation in Sri Lanka that has stirred a political storm in India with MPs from Tamil Nadu threatening to resign if the violence against civilians was not stopped in Lanka.

Manmohan Singh also asked Rajapaksa to instruct the Sri Lankan Navy to desist from firing on Indian fishermen and reiterated that the killing of fishermen is “unacceptable”.

The two leaders agreed to work on practical arrangements to prevent such incidents.

Rajapaksa is likely to send a senior envoy to New Delhi early next week to discuss issues raised by the Manmohan Singh government.

Manmohan Singh’s call to the Sri Lankan president comes a day after Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon summoned Sri Lankan High Commissioner C.R. Jayasinghe and asked Colombo to “take steps” to stop the violence that has severely affected Tamil civilians in the island nation.

In an interview to The Hindu newspaper published Friday, Rajapaksa had said that his government was committed to finding “a just and enduring political solution” and stressed that there were “no military solutions to political questions”.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee Thursday had sent a stern message to Colombo Thursday asking it to shun “military means” and pursue a political settlement that respects the human rights of minorities in the island nation.

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