Sri Lankan president’s emissary to visit India (Lead)

April 22nd, 2009 - 5:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, April 22 (IANS) Sri Lanka is planning to send President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brother Basil as a special envoy to brief India about the situation in the strife-hit island where thousands of Tamil civilians have fled the war zone with barely anything except the clothes they are in.
“There is a plan for him (Basil Rajapaksa) to come to India. But we do not have a specific date,” Sri Lanka’s ambassador C.R. Jayasinghe told IANS Wednesday.

Basil Rajapaksa, presidential adviser and parliamentarian, came to India in October last year.

He is likely to meet External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon now.

Rajapaksa’s visit comes amid mounting concern and protests in Tamil Nadu over the suffering of thousands of civilians who are beginning to pour out of the small strip of land in Mullaitivu district where the last of the Tamil Tigers are still holed up, with the military closing in on them.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, whose DMK party is a key member of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government, has called a shutdown in the state Thursday to protest against “civilian atrocities”. Smaller parties have warned of bloodbath in Tamil Nadu if Velupillai Prabhakaran, leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), came to harm in the military onslaught.

Envoy Jayasinghe defended the “final assault” launched by Sri Lankan troops against the LTTE in Mullaitivu district after the rebels ignored a 24-hour deadline to surrender.

“It’s an operation mounted for humanitarian reasons. The exercise is necessary to ensure the exit of civilians from the LTTE area,” the envoy said.

“Our approach has been to keep open the corridor so that the maximum number of civilians can get out and get the best possible medical, sanitation and nutrition relief,” he explained. “It’s a huge logistical exercise.”

Alluding to many thousands of civilians leaving the war zone where LTTE guerrillas are hiding and moving into government-held areas, the envoy said it showed that people were “really desperate to move out of LTTE’s clutches”.

“This is not an exercise mounted by a sovereign nation against another nation. The citizens are entitled to equal protection,” he said. “The citizens of Sri Lanka are being held against their will. The state has every right to intervene and return them to safety.”

There is also growing concern in Western capitals about the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka. But Colombo has rejected calls to order a truce in fighting, saying this would only benefit the now cornered LTTE.

According to Sri Lankan authorities, about 95,000 men, women and children have fled the war zone since Monday.

Karunanidhi urged Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, head of India’s ruling coalition, to give an ultimatum to Colombo “for an immediate and permanent ceasefire and save lakhs of Tamils in Sri Lanka”.

India has conveyed the concerns and appealed to Colombo to ensure the safe exit of Tamil civilians.

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