Sri Lanka
Indian foreign minister to fly to turbulent Sri Lanka
Jan 7, 2007 - 10:20:53 AM

New Delhi, Jan 7 - External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee travels to Sri Lanka Tuesday amid burgeoning violence that has begun to trigger calls from Tamils for India's intervention in the unending ethnic conflict.

Although the main reason for Mukherjee's two-day visit is to invite President Mahinda Rajapakse to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation - summit in April, the Sri Lanka situation will figure in his meetings.

The Indian government is concerned over the vicious cycle of violence and counter-violence that has enveloped the island nation since December 2005 and is making it more and more difficult to reach a negotiated political settlement.

Mukherjee would listen to what President Rajapakse, who visited New Delhi only in November, has to say about the state of affairs, in particular about the northeast where the government and the Tamil Tigers are locked in a fierce battle for supremacy.

As in the past, the violence has most seriously affected innocents, who account for most of the over 3,500 dead last year and the continuing casualties.

While the majority of the dead in the north and east are Tamils and Muslims, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam - has been blamed for bomb attacks outside the region targeting the majority Sinhalese community.

Tens of thousands, mainly Tamils, have also been forced out of their homes by the fighting. Large numbers are either living in poorly maintained shelters or on their own, in both government and LTTE-held areas.

Also on the Indian radar is Colombo's decision to split up into two the Tamil-majority northeastern province that was merged into one administrative unit under the 1987 India-Sri Lanka pact.

It has also been observed that dominant sections of the government have actively and openly come out against a report of experts that advocated greater devolution of power to the northeast.

All this is producing two kinds of reactions New Delhi has to take note of even as it voices support to Sri Lanka's territorial integrity.

One is in Tamil Nadu, where Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi is pressing India's ruling coalition, of which his DMK party is a key partner, to take a pro-Tamil stand. At the same time, there are growing voices within dominant sections of the Sri Lankan Tamil community for New Delhi to play a more active and, if possible, interventionist role.

Last month, New Delhi made a subtle but important change in its Sri Lanka policy by shaking hands with the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance -. It was the first such contact with any group aligned with the Tigers since the 1991 assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi that led to LTTE being outlawed in India.

Sections of the Indian establishment had been advocating an India-TNA meeting for some time. The assassination in Colombo of TNA MP N. Raviraj in November shook up many in India who viewed him as a moderate Tamil leader.

Tamils opposed to the Tigers too are urging India to act. In a clear sign of frustration, some Tamil sources want the Indian Navy to block weapon shipments to Sri Lanka so as to end the killings of civilians in the northeast.

On Friday, the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front - urged New Delhi to 'actively involve itself again in the Sri Lankan crisis' adding that 'the consequences of not interfering directly will be calamitous to Tamils and to India's security concerns'.

The ENDLF took part in the northeastern provincial government in Sri Lanka in the 1980s and its leadership is presently based in India.

The LTTE is, however, opposed to any Indian military intervention, and there is no sign here that such a course is being contemplated.

With the Norway-sponsored and internationally backed peace process dying a quiet death, Mukherjee's discussions will help add to India's inputs as it gropes to find a way to calm the situation in Sri Lanka.

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