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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2959

Rajapaksa, Singh cover familiar ground, fail to bridge the India-Lanka divide

By M Rama Rao, India Editor, Asian Tribune

New Delhi, 14 November ( President Mahinda Rajapaksa's bilateral talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here on the sidelines of BIMSTEC summit covered the familiar ground but failed to bridge the India-Lanka divide. The meeting took place against backdrop of a call by Tamil Nadu assembly for a ceasefire in the Eelam War IV.

Expectedly, the safety of ethnic Tamils dominated the discussions. While the Indian leader talked about the 'humanitarian' of the on-going conflict in the island and underlined the need to ensure 'protection' and 'welfare' of 'innocent' Tamils caught in the war, the Sri Lankan President apprised him of the steps being taken to protect the interests of Tamils and made it clear that the military offensive against the LTTE would continue.

Articulating his by now well known position on the Tigers, Rajapakse told the Indian side of his conviction that terrorism unleashed by LTTE has to be answered militarily while the underlying causes of the problem must be addressed politically. He also conveyed to his hosts the concern over 'LTTE using Indian fishermen to carry arms' as a matter of 'national security issue'. Both leaders remitted the issue for discussion at the ministerial - level.

On his part, Manmohan Singh emphasized that the interests of innocent civilians should be protected even while dealing with terrorism. Rajapaksa did a quick follow-up on the talks that his brother and special envoy Basil Rajapaksa had in New Delhi on October 26 and apprised the Indian PM on the progress made by the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) for devolution of power in northern Sri Lankan to meet the aspirations of the people.

After the meeting, as he met reporters, Rajapaksa appeared visibly satisfied. He told a questioner that he had assured the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that his government would ensure welfare of Tamils. "We will assure you. We assure not only the Prime Minister but the whole world that we will look after Tamils. Nothing will happen to Tamils. We are looking after our people, it is my duty".

Asked about the much talked about political settlement to the ethnic issue, President Rajapaksa spoke of the need to grapple with the LTTE terrorism first. "We must eradicate terrorism first then give political solution. We can't pass this on to the next generation... This is the practical solution".

This is the second meeting of Rajapaksa and Singh in the past couple of months. They met earlier on the sidelines of SAARC summit in Colombo. It is their first direct contact since Singh spoke to Rajapaksa last month. The issue of SL Navy firing at Indian fishermen also figured in their talks and according to sources, Rajapaksa assured the Indian leader that his Navy would observe restraint.

Arms Smuggling

Sri Lanka President voiced his concern over smuggling of arms and drugs in the Bay of Bengal area while on the issue of LTTE.

At the summit –end press conference, Rajapaksa was forthright on the issue. "Sea lanes of Bay of Bengal are being used by terrorists to smuggle arms and drugs", he said and spoke of the need for increased maritime surveillance in the Bay of Bengal. "We discussed it (the issue at the summit). All countries and societies of the region are affected by terrorism".

The summit- second by the seven nation- (India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Nepal) BIMSTEC since its formation in 1997 - agreed that terrorism posed a major threat to the societies and economies and declared, "We need to combat this threat collectively".

Rajapaksa said the resolution adopted by the BIMSTEC leaders 'fully reflects our concern' over growing terrorism in the region. He said BIMSTEC should consider setting up of a mechanism to 'effectively police' the Bay of Bengal, to deny the terrorists mobility and connectivity.

Manmohan Singh, who chaired the summit, told the joint press conference that the BIMSTEC leaders would soon finalize a convention on fighting international terrorism, trans-national organized crime and illicit drug trafficking. The convention is ready and can be signed any time. Soon the eight nation grouping will put in place a joint mechanism to combat terrorism and o step up cooperation to deal with the challenges posed by global financial crisis and food and energy security.

At his media interaction, Sri Lanka President stuck to his refrain that ceasefire with LTTE could be a possibility, if the Tigers lay down their arms. 'Ceasefire has been there for so many years... 20 years…There have been agreements. (But) every time we have ceasefire, they got themselves strengthened, got firepower and hit back', he recalled and said, 'We are ready for a negotiated settlement. But we are clear... they (LTTE) have to lay down arms'.

On the 13th Amendment that is designed for devolution of power, the Sri Lanka President admitted that it has not been implemented 'for long' and added: 'Now, we are implementing (it)'.

Asked about Indian relief material for 'war zone', the SL President said it will be sent to the 'last point' through the Red Cross.

Indian Relief

A consignment of 1,680 tonnes of food and other relief material from India is expected to reach the Sri Lanka this weekend. Though New Delhi had helped with medical and other assistance after the 2004 Tsunami, Indian humanitarian assistance is the first of its kind in nearly two decades. The offer of relief material was made during Basil Rajapaksa visit to Delhi and Colombo accepted the offer. It was also decided at that time that the Tamil Nadu government would also mobilize relief material to the affected civilians. Authorities in Chennai have since arranged family packs containing food and non-food items including clothes and hygiene products for distribution amongst the victims by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the government agencies.

-Asian Tribune -

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