Rajapaksa invites Karunanidhi, Jayalalitha to Sri Lanka (Lead)

January 28th, 2009 - 4:16 am ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Jan 28 (IANS) Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa told India’s visiting External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee that he has invited Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and AIDMK leader J. Jayalalitha to visit Sri Lanka to persuade the Tamil Tiger rebels to lay down their arms and enter into the democratic mainstream.Mukherjee, accompanied by Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon arrived in Bandaranaike International Air Port at Katunayake, 28 km north of Colombo, in a special plane from New Delhi late Tuesday and held talks only with President Rajapaksa, before returning home the same day.

“After our conversation, President Rajapaksa was good enough to extend a personal invitation to an all-party delegation from Tamil Nadu led by Chief Minister Karunanidhi and (opposition leader) Jayalalitha to see for themselves the situation on the ground and to persuade the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) to lay down arms and join the democratic mainstream,” Mukherjee told Indian journalist here shortly before midnight Tuesday.

The Indian minister, who made an unscheduled visit to Colombo Tuesday said the humanitarian situation in the northern war-zone came up for discussion and President Rajapaksa assured him that his government would minimise the civilian sufferings.

“We also reviewed the humanitarian situation as a result of the conflict. The Sri Lankan government has reassured that they would respect the safe zones and minimise the effects of conflict on Tamil civilians,” he said, adding that India intends to continue its relief supply to the affected civilians.

When asked whether there would be a ceasefire in Sri Lanka (between the government and LTTE) as a result of his visit, Mukherjee said: “Our basic purpose is to help civilians to reduce their plight and to ensure their safety and security.”

Answering a question whether he would ask the Tamil Nadu chief minister, who has been demanding for an immediate ceasefire in Sri Lanka and resumption of peace talks, to consider the proposal of the Sri Lankan President, Mukherjee replied: “He has extended an invitation and I will communicate it to the chief minister.”

He said President Rajapaksa has assured him that it was his intention to move as quickly as possible to implement the 13th Amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution, which followed the India-Sri Lanka agreement of 1987 and expressed his readiness “to explore the possibility of going further and improving upon those devolution proposals”.

“I stressed that military victories offer a political opportunity to restore life to normalcy in the northern province and throughout Sri Lanka, after 23 years of conflict. The President assured me that this was his intent,” he said.

“We will work together with the Government of Sri Lanka to enable all Sri Lankans, and particularly the Tamil community who have borne the brunt of the effects of the conflict, to lead normal lives as soon as possible,” Mukherjee added.

Claiming that India-Sri Lanka relations were “developing strongly”, Mukherjee said the discussions also covered recent developments in Sri Lanka, the entire gamut of bilateral relations and regional issues of mutual interest.

“For our part, I expressed our readiness to participate in the reconstruction of northern Sri Lanka so as to overcome the ravages of war and also to lay the economic and political foundations of a strong peace in which all communities feel comfortable,” he said, stressing that both the governments would work together in these areas.

There was, however, no immediate word from President Rajapaksa’s office regarding the Indian minister’s visit here.

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