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Japan asks India to play powerful role in SL

Pressed to say what exactly co-chairs wanted India to do, Akashi explained that New Delhi's role would be special.

india Updated: Jul 25, 2006 11:52 IST

Japan's special envoy to Sri Lanka, Yasushi Akashi, has urged India to play a "more influential role" in the island nation's tottering peace process.

In an interview at his office in Tokyo, Akashi said he attached "great importance for the role India does play and can play in the future" in Sri Lanka, where a Norwegian-sponsored peace mission has run into rough weather.

"Because of their experience of the 1980s, Indians are obviously very careful," Akashi said, referring to the Indian military intervention in Sri Lanka that led to a bloody war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Later, in May 1991, a woman suicide bomber said to be from the LTTE assassinated former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who had dispatched the troops.

"But (India's) stake Sri Lankan stability is unmistakable... India has a lot of knowledge and experience about Sri Lanka, and Sri Lankan leaders are well aware of that.

"So we are anxious that India plays a more influential role in Sri Lanka," Akashi said, speaking for Japan as well as Norway, the US and the European Union, the other members of the co-chairs to the peace process.

"The four co-chairs would welcome it very much."

Pressed to say what exactly the co-chairs wanted India to do, Akashi explained that New Delhi's role would be "special".

"Norway is the diplomatic facilitator, Japan is the aid coordinator so to say, the US has its unquestioned military and political clout, and the European Union combines the resources of Europe.

"So if India could sort of associate itself with us, if not organizationally at least in substance, with India's unquestioned role in South Asia, I think the international community will have added weight to bear on the Sri Lankan situation."

Akashi also pointed out that he made it a point to visit India whenever he went to Sri Lanka to meet government and LTTE leaders.

"I am encouraged to find that India is well aware what is at stake and what they might be able to do for the Sri Lankan peace."

Akashi is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka again next month, and the veteran Japanese diplomat told IANS that he planned to meet LTTE Velupillai Prabhakaran too.

India once provided sanctuary to Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups. But in 1987 it signed a peace pact with Colombo to try ending Tamil separatism.

Indian troops deployed in Sri Lanka's northeast, however, ended up fighting the LTTE, and returned home in March 1990 after suffering nearly 1,200 dead.

India in 1992 became the first country to outlaw the LTTE in the wake of the Gandhi assassination. In recent times, India has been urging Sri Lankan leaders to evolve a national consensus on devolving powers to the minorities.

Akashi, however, underlined that the international community would not be able to help Sri Lanka unless the island's warring ethnic groups decided to work for peace.

"It should be understood by Sri Lankans, both in the south and north, that the international community is there at their invitation. It is far from their intention to impose their will on the Sri Lankan people."

Akashi also defended Norway, the peace facilitator that has been subject to some heavy criticism by sections of the Sri Lankan political establishment.

"The Norwegians have done their job professionally, conscientiously and with a persistence that is exemplary.

"It is the fate of the messenger of bad tidings somehow to be blamed for the bad news that he or she conveys.

"I think Norway's role not only in Sri Lanka but in many other parts of the world is highly respected. After all Norway is there in Sri Lanka at the request of and at the invitation of the Sri Lankan governments as well as the LTTE."