The long standing plan to build a monument for the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka got a fillip on Sunday, when President Mahinda Rajapaksa approved a design and fixed the location for it.
The IPKF had served with distinction in the Tamil-speaking North-East of Sri Lanka between 1987 and 1990 following the India-Sri Lanka Accord.
A top source in the Presidential Secretariat said that the monument would be located near the Sri Lankan parliament in the outskirts of Colombo.
The architect for the monument is a Tamil.
The IPKF was inducted into Sri Lanka at the request of the Sri Lankan government to implement the India-Sri Lanka Accord of July 1987.
But in October 1987, the LTTE attacked the IPKF and in the prolonged military campaign which followed, 1,500 Indian officers and men were killed and more than 3,000 were wounded.
By 1988, the government of Sri Lanka had also fallen out with India and had entered into an alliance with the LTTE.
In 1989, President R Premadasa gave an ultimatum to the IPKF to leave. The force left the island in March 1990.
However, when the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE fell out again, and a long and costly war ensued, many in Sri Lanka began to toy with the idea of winning back the goodwill of India.
A former Associate Foreign Secretary K Godage proposed that a monument be erected for the IPKF because the force had tried its best to maintain the unity of Sri Lanka in the face of a terrorist challenge.
Maj.Gen. Ashok Mehta, a former officer in the IPKF, had already erected a small monument at his headquarters in Batticaloa. He too called for a monument befitting the sacrifices made by the force.
In 2002, the government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe toyed with the idea of building a monument in Colombo or Trincomalee. The Indian government was also enthusiastic.
But the plan fell by the wayside, only to be revived now by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2006.
Rajapaksa’s move indicates his interest in getting close to India in the face of a serious military challenge from the LTTE.
The Sri Lankan President also suspects that the LTTE is getting tacit support from the West, and that the latter can be contained by a greater Indian involvement in the Sri Lankan peace process.