Sri Lanka
After hard talk in US, Sri Lanka foreign minister visits India
Mar 18, 2007 - 10:07:10 AM

New Delhi, March 18 - Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama begins Monday his second visit to India in two months, after making it clear in the US that the world must shed 'semantics' while backing Colombo's bid to end the ethnic conflict.

Bogollagama, who came to India Jan 31 on a brief trip immediately after taking charge of the ministry, will have two busy days here meeting government and opposition leaders to explain the situation in Sri Lanka besides taking up bilateral issues.

Bogollagama will meet External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar. He shall also call on former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his former deputy L.K. Advani, both of the Bharatiya Janata Party -.

On Jan 31, when he halted briefly in New Delhi on his way to Germany, Bogollagama had met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It is not clear if they will meet again.

This time, diplomats told IANS, the subjects likely to be taken up for discussion would be regional cooperation, security issues particularly in the sea dividing the two countries, bilateral affairs and other larger aspects of the dragging ethnic conflict.

Bogollagama comes at a time when Sri Lanka had made it abundantly clear that it is determined to defeat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam - come what may, with one military official in Colombo saying that the war against the Tigers cannot no more be dubbed 'an un-winnable war'.

Ahead of his flight to New Delhi, Bogollagama exhibited some of Colombo's newly acquired confidence in New York and Washington, doing some plain speaking before US leaders and influential circles.

Stating 'a special responsibility' rested on countries overseeing Sri Lanka's derailed peace process, he told the Centre for Strategic and International Studies - that the international community needed to stop 'debating semantics and ignoring the reality'.

Without naming any country, he added: 'The mistake made by some members of the international community in taking too long to recognize that the Tigers were no 'freedom fighters' but a group of ruthless terrorists, must not be repeated.'

The minister said it was the duty of the international community to tell the LTTE to return to negotiations 'in a time bound fashion with specific targets and not seek to use such an opportunity to merely buy time or to score tactical advantages. The international community must push the LTTE to make this choice, and make it now.'

Bogollogama went on: 'It is unfortunate that up to now the misguided faith of both some Sri Lankan political leaders as well as sections of the international community - the transformational capacity of the LTTE has cost Sri Lanka dearly not only in loss of assets and lives but also at least two generations of Tamil politicians and academics.'

Among those Bogollogama met in the US were Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other officials of the State Department besides Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Stephen Hadley, the National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush.

Sri Lankan officials say they would like more open expression of support from India in the campaign against LTTE and feel that the many challenges Colombo faces are perhaps not adequately appreciated in New Delhi.

India has repeatedly stated that while it supports Sri Lanka's territorial integrity, it wants Colombo to come out with a just political settlement of the ethnic conflict and end human rights abuses in the island's northeast, the war theatre.

Since January 2006, some 18,000 Sri Lankan Tamils have fled to India to escape violence in that country. Almost all of them arrived by boats in Tamil Nadu.

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