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Saran for political consensus on Lanka

india Updated: Jul 03, 2006 20:09 IST

Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran has offered the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, India's expertise in devolution of power during his "brief but politically focused" visit to the island.

At his meeting with Rajapaksa on Monday, Saran stressed the need for a political consensus in Sri Lanka on the peace process, and offered India's constitutional expertise in hammering out a political solution.

On Tuesday, Saran is to meet Ranil Wickremesinghe, Leader of the opposition United National Party (UNP) to discuss the question of forming a "southern consensus" on the ethnic issue, devolution and the peace process.

Sources say that the significance of Saran's two-day visit lies in the critical condition in which the peace process is, following the breakdown of the June 8 talks in Oslo between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE on the monitoring of the ceasefire.

On June 9, the LTTE had re-asserted its right to resume its struggle for external self determination or secession, putting the clock back as it were.

There is a threat of war looming in the Sri Lankan horizon, following the assassination of the Deputy Chief of the Army staff, Lt.Gen. Parami Kulatunga by the LTTE.

Saran's visit takes place in the context of the LTTE's scuttling the Nordic-staffed Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM).

The LTTE is opposing the membership of countries from the European Union (EU) in the SLMM after the EU banned it. This has endangered ceasefire monitoring because involved are 37 of the 57 monitors.

Also, India has to convey to Sri Lanka its views on the LTTE's supposed apology for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in a recent TV interview.

The LTTE's chief negotiator, Anton Balasingham, who gave the interview, appealed for the re-establishment of relations with New Delhi and for a pro-active Indian role in the peace process in Sri Lanka.

Though there is a vocal pro-LTTE lobby in Tamil Nadu, New Delhi has already rejected the LTTE's supposed apology and said that any truck with the LTTE is tantamount to condoning terrorism and the politics of assassinations.

But in the context of the weakening of the Norwegian and Scandinavian role, and expectations of a pro-active Indian role from the Sri Lankan government's side as well as the LTTE's, India is in a fix.

Should it play an active role or not? If it is to, what kind of role can it be, in the light of past bad experiences?

India will have to ponder all this and credibly address the Sri Lankan government's concerns.

India has already shown its concern for Sri Lanka's defense by giving a radar system to detect low flying aircraft, the sort, which the LTTE may use in the not too distant future.

India has also been calling for a negotiated solution and subtly suggesting that it may be a federal solution.

Significance of meeting with Ranil

Talks with the Leader of the Opposition and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe are important in the context of the need to forge a consensus between the government and the opposition on the peace process and the development of a devolution package to solve the Tamil problem.

The opposition UNP has said that it will not take part in the Rajapaksa government's constitution making exercise because the government has not formally spelt out its policy on the Oslo Declaration of 2002, which called for a federal solution.

The Rajapaksa government is for devolution with a "unitary" constitution only.

But in recent pronouncements if has been saying that it is for devolution within a "united" Sri Lanka, and that it will consider the Indian and other models to evolve an uniquely "Sri Lankan model."

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