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India to change Lanka policy if Tigers wither

As per sources, India may press for a “devolution package” for the Lankan Tamil minority if the LTTE are “de-fanged”, reports Nilova Roy Chaudhury.

india Updated: Jan 01, 2008 01:53 IST

More and more reports emanating from Sri Lanka are suggesting that Vellupillai Prabhakaran, head of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), is injured and dying, or even dead.

If these are correct, India can step into the peace process in Sri Lanka directly, a senior Indian diplomat said. Without its founder leader, the LTTE cannot survive, the diplomat added. With the LTTE out of the way, India would have no problems stepping in directly to try and resolve the island nation’s ethnic crisis.

Aware of the fact that the world’s attention at the moment is focused on Pakistan, the Sri Lankan government has been quietly pressing ahead with its military solution to the ethnic problem. “The government (in Colombo) seems hell-bent on pursuing a military solution, with no attempts to come up with a credible devolution package,” a diplomatic source said. “The Lankan government is hoodwinking India by claiming that it is keen to devolve power.”

If the LTTE were “de-fanged,” India could press for a “devolution package” for the Sri Lankan Tamil minority, sources said. “Awful human rights violations are taking place in the name of attacking the LTTE,” the source said.

Indian officials said they can’t confirm reports that Prabhakaran had been injured or killed, as the Lankan authorities claimed. But “something is certainly up,” they said.

A senior armed forces official said he would remain skeptical about claims of Prabhakaran’s end until he saw concrete evidence.

“He has been killed off several times in the past,” the official said.

Aware that India is caught in a piquant situation vis-à-vis the LTTE, Colombo has been pressing ahead with attacks on LTTE positions.

According to reports emanating from Colombo, Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has said LTTE rebels would not be able to withstand the ongoing three-pronged attack on their strongholds in north Sri Lanka though they are putting up fierce resistance.

“The LTTE would not be able to successfully resist troops on three different fronts,” Rajapaksa told The Island daily on Monday, even as he acknowledged that the rebels were putting up stiff resistance. The Sri Lankan armed forces were attacking the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Mannar, Vavuniya and Jaffna simultaneously, he said, with both sides using heavy weapons like artillery and multi-barrel rocket launchers. Government troops had done “exceptionally well” in the recent high intensity battles, though inclement weather was causing problems, said the Defence Secretary, who is Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brother.

He said he had made it very clear to the three service chiefs that the onus of bringing peace to the country was on them because only a military victory over the LTTE would ensure a peaceful settlement of the Tamil question.

Sri Lanka’s army chief said the leader of the country’s Tamil Tiger rebels could be dead within six months and the military’s aim is to kill 10 rebels a day, a newspaper report said on Sunday. Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka was quoted by the state-run weekend paper Sunday Observer as saying the security forces have occupied Tamil Tiger forward defence lines and surrounded the northern rebel held Wanni rebel base.