Devolve power to minorities, Delhi advises Colombo

November 2nd, 2008 - 11:55 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 2 (IANS) India has told Sri Lanka to devolve powers in matters such as agriculture and education to the local authorities in its east if it is serious about power sharing to end the country’s ethnic conflict.At the same time, New Delhi has conveyed to Basil Rajapaksa, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s adviser and brother, that a military win over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was near impossible.

Basil Rajapaksa was in India last week in the wake of mass protests in Tamil Nadu denouncing civilian suffering caused by the ongoing war in Sri Lanka. He held extensive discussions with Indian leaders including External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan.

While not asking Colombo to halt its military campaign against the LTTE, India made it clear that it was not happy with the pace of devolution of power to minorities, more so in the east where a provincial administration is now in place.

Rajapaksa was told that if Sri Lanka was serious about an eventual political settlement to the conflict, it needed to let the eastern province administration enjoy full powers in areas such as agriculture, education, irrigation, finance and police affairs.

These, he was told, would make a substantial difference in the day to day affairs of Tamils and other minorities in the eastern province, which is home to large numbers of Muslims and Sinhalese as well.

New Delhi has chosen not to publicise its appeal to Colombo that is expected to benefit the former LTTE guerrillas who now govern the eastern province. Their party, known as TMVP, is closely allied to the Sri Lankan political and security establishments.

The TMVP-led provincial administration is widely seen as a toothless body. India wants Sri Lanka to seriously implement the 13th amendment to the constitution that seeks to devolve powers to provincial legislatures.

And although Sri Lanka thinks otherwise, Indian leaders reiterated to Rajapaksa that the belief in Colombo that the LTTE could be crushed was misplaced.

The president’s brother was also told that Sri Lanka needs to put in place without loss of time a credible political process, failing which the military’s attempt to capture the LTTE’s political hub Kilinochchi will fall flat even if the region is captured.

Indian officials expressed serious objection to the racial profiling of Tamils in Colombo as part of security measures aimed at curbing LTTE modules in the Sri Lankan capital. External Affairs Minister Mukherjee conveyed these and other points to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi.

Tamil Nadu was rocked by vocal protests in October demanding an immediate end to fighting in Sri Lanka’s north, where the military is slowly advancing into the last of the territory the LTTE holds.

In the process, tens of thousands of impoverished Tamil civilians have been forced to flee their homes, becoming refugees in their own country.

India has promised humanitarian assistance, including food and medicines, to these people, to be delivered through Sri Lankan authorities. The first lot is expected to sail for Sri Lanka from Tamil Nadu in about 10 days.

The two countries have also unveiled steps to end the hiccups caused mainly by Indian fishermen straying into Sri Lankan waters. This was a key demand in Tamil Nadu, which is separated from Sri Lanka by a narrow strip of sea.

Rajapaksa gave a detailed briefing on the situation in Sri Lanka, where thousands have died since a Norway-sponsored ceasefire agreement began to fall apart from 2004.

Colombo now says it does not want Oslo to be part of any further peace process involving the LTTE over persistent suspicion that Norwegian policy makers are biased towards the Tigers.

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