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India seeks end to SL tension

India has sent Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon to Colombo on Thursday for the purpose, reports Nilova Roy Chaudhury.

india Updated: Nov 25, 2006 03:10 IST

The Indian government was so worried at the prospect of the ongoing hostilities escalating into a full-fledged ethnic war in Sri Lanka, it sent Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon to Colombo on Thursday, just ahead of a visit by Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse to India.

Rajapakse, who arrives in India on Saturday, to attend a Mayor's Conference in Mussoorie and Dehradun, returns to New Delhi on Tuesday and has a series of official meetings lined up, with the Prime Minister and UPA chairperson, among others, all waiting to urge caution and a return to the Norwegian-brokered cease-fire of 2002, that remains only on paper.

India seeks not only a cessation of overt hostilities, it also wants a time-bound commitment from the government in Colombo outlining a definite 'road map' towards a federal structure in Sri Lanka.

Several teams of MPs from Sri Lanka have visited India over the past one year to study various aspects of the Indian federal system. When Rajapakse came last year, he was also given a detailed presentation on how India's federal structure operates, how taxes are divided between the Central government and state governments and so on.

Menon returned to India on Friday after a meeting with Rajapakse and other senior leaders and officials, to all of whom he conveyed India's concern at escalating hostilities.

The vicious cycle of bombardment and counter-attacks along the blocked A-9 highway (the lifeline to Jaffna in the north) have left a large population of Sri Lankan Tamil citizens caught in the cross-fire and fleeing to India for refuge.

According to some reports, the figure of refugees is on the rise, with one survey speaking of almost 15,000 refugees landing in Tamil Nadu so far this year.

Officials said the figure appeared high, but admitted the volume of refugees arriving in Tamil Nadu was on the rise and could cause security problems for the government.

"The only way to get the central government to sit up and take notice of what's happening in Sri Lanka is if the trickle of refugees (into Tamil Nadu from north and east Sri Lanka) turns into a flood," a senior official said.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi has already written a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging New Delhi to directly intervene in Sri Lanka to prevent a "humanitarian crisis".

The Norwegians, mediating in the crisis between the Lankan government and the LTTE, has kept India informed at every stage and also urged it to be more directly involved.

Hampered by a lack of communication with one party to the ethnic dispute, the LTTE, New Delhi wants Karunanidhi to use his influence with the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) to urge them back to the negotiating table.

Menon stopped over in Chennai to meet Karunanidhi on Friday and brief him on the situation in Sri Lanka.

Email Nilova Roy Chaudhury: nilova@hindustantimes.com