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SL for defence pact with India: envoy

india Updated: Jan 29, 2007 18:58 IST
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Despite India's polite 'no', Sri Lanka is still for a defence agreement with India. But Colombo's envoy here points out: "It takes two to tango."

High Commissioner CR Jayasinghe said that Sri Lanka was committed to achieving a political solution so as to end the country's bloody ethnic conflict.

A proposed India-Sri Lanka defence agreement, which Colombo has repeatedly asked for, "has not been able to make progress as one would have hoped for", Jayasinghe said in an interaction with the agency.

But "it takes two to tango", he pointed out. "Obviously the agreement would become a reality only if authorities in India (agree). On our side there are no issues."

Asked how vital was the agreement for India, the envoy replied: "It is not for me to speak."

The Indian government is under intense pressure from many political parties in Tamil Nadu not to sign the pact.

Tamil Nadu's leaders argued that such an accord would only encourage Colombo to get more aggressive vis-à-vis the Tamil minority community.

But Jayasinghe denied that there was any "friction" between New Delhi and Colombo.

"I don't think there is friction. Of course there is disappointment on both sides."

He did not elaborate. But many in Sri Lanka's political establishment want India to be more stridently opposed to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and be less critical of Colombo.

In India, the government feels Sri Lanka does not appear to be serious enough in going for a political solution that would devolve greater powers to Tamil areas.

New Delhi is also upset over civilian casualties, who account for most of the deaths and injuries in a war that has shown a dramatic upsurge since the end of 2005.

"The Sri Lankan government is clearly committed to a negotiated political solution," Jayasinghe said. "But one has to be pragmatic and patient."

At the same time, the military would keep pushing against the Tigers, he insisted, citing the example of Sampur in the island's east which troops seized from the Tigers last year.

"They (Tigers) cannot have the option of destabilising when they choose," he said. "The government is very clear. The (Sri Lankan) president is very clear.

"A solution must be of a political nature even as security forces deal with the threat (of LTTE)."

When will a political solution come about? "It should be homegrown. It should be a homegrown solution.

It should command the widest possible consensus," he said. "(But) to build such a consensus is not possible overnight."

Will the Sri Lankan conflict ever get resolved?

"We have had a long record of different communities having lived together in harmony. Certainly there is no reason to be pessimistic... that it will end in disaster, in the break-up of the country.

"In the short term it is difficult to hazard when (the war will end). So many efforts have been made, for various reason they have not had the desired outcome. Our society has shown great resilience."

The high commissioner said last week's visit to Sri Lanka of Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee was "obviously very welcome" and added that frequent interactions between the two countries "depends on the understanding between both sides".

He said while Sri Lanka wanted "a very close and warm relationship with India irrespective of whoever is in office", Colombo would be happy to have an Indian leader visiting his country.

No Indian prime minister has visited Sri Lanka since then prime minister IK Gujral visited Colombo for the SAARC summit.

Most visits by heads of state and government have been one way: from Colombo to New Delhi.

At the same time, Jayasinghe urged "Indian public and media not to allow propaganda to blur the distinction between the grievances of the Tamils which need to be addressed and the nefarious question of LTTE".

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