Rajapaksa to allay India’s concerns over Tamil civilians

November 11th, 2008 - 8:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Male, Nov 11 (IANS) Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa headed to New Delhi Tuesday with a clear message that while he understands the political compulsions behind India’s concerns about civilian suffering in his country, Colombo will pursue its war against the Tamil Tigers, an aide to Rajapaksa said here. Rajapaksa was among a galaxy of foreign leaders who attended the swearing-in ceremony of Maldives’ new President Mohamed Nasheed here Tuesday morning. Nasheed, a former political prisoner, unseated Asia’s longest serving ruler, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, in elections last month.

Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari, seated next to Rajapaksa at the swearing-in ceremony, informally discussed the situation in Sri Lanka with the president.

“We understand the political compulsions of the Indian government. But our position is very clear: we will move ahead with the military action against the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) while ensuring that civilians don’t suffer,” a close aide to Rajapaksa who did not wish to be named told IANS.

“India knows the LTTE well. They are terrorists and have to be handled as terrorists. We are trying to help civilians by protecting them from the LTTE,” he said, while referring to the 1991 assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber.

He was responding to a question on India’s concerns about the humanitarian consequences of the military conflict in Sri Lanka.

The situation in Sri Lanka became a touchy issue in India with MPs from Tamil Nadu earlier threatening to resign from parliament over the war that has left many dead and thousands homeless.

“The situation is stabilising. We are also progressing in the direction of devolution (of power) and lasting political reforms,” the aide said, while trying to dispel the perception in India that Sri Lanka was not doing enough to address the issue of meaningful political reforms.

Rajapaksa flew to New Delhi from Male. He is likely to hold bilateral talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday and is expected to update him about the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) proposals for power sharing as an answer to the Tamil separatist conflict.

He will attend in New Delhi Thursday a summit that brings together seven countries from South and Southeast Asia in pursuit of greater connectivity and regional integration.

Leaders of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation comprising Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Thailand will hold talks on regional issues Wednesday.

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