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SL peace talks highly unlikely: India

Pranab returns from Lanka with the understanding that LTTE-Colombo peace talks are unlikely in near future.

india Updated: Jan 12, 2007 16:59 IST

Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee is back from Sri Lanka with one clear understanding: peace talks between the Tamil Tigers and Colombo are highly unlikely in the near future.

Besides extending Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's invite to President Mahinda Rajapakse for the April summit in New Delhi of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Mukherjee had a one-on-one meeting with Rajapakse during the two-day visit that ended on Wednesday.

Among other things, the external affairs minister conveyed New Delhi's anguish over continuing civilian casualties in the island's northeast in the fighting between the military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

In the process, he conveyed a message that is also being echoed by some of the other countries associated with Sri Lanka's now derailed peace process, including the US and Germany, the current head of the 25-nation European Union.

While India and the other countries admit that Colombo's faces enormous challenges militarily, their considered opinion is that there can be no military solution to a conflict that seems to be spiralling out of control. But the military wants to keep pursuing its aggressive push against the LTTE, arguing that this can lead to a decisive victory at least in Sri Lanka's eastern wing.

And attacks on civilian targets by the LTTE in Sri Lanka in response to military strikes on its territory have only produced a vicious tit-for-tat gore.

The Sri Lankan leadership understands the importance of India in the larger context but it does not want to give up what it considers are strategic gains it has made vis-à-vis the Tigers in recent months.

Dominant sections in Colombo are also bitterly against federalism that India believes is the answer to the ethnic conflict. Under the circumstances, the feeling here is that both sides have locked themselves in a war where peace talks that everyone advocates is a mirage.

This means new headaches for India, which, while expressing support for Sri Lanka's territorial unity, has made it abundantly clear that it can never condone the killing of innocents, the overwhelming bulk of whom are Tamils.

Already, tensions are running high in Tamil Nadu over the civilian killings in the island's northeast, parts of which are ruled by the Tigers.

In Colombo itself, the rampant kidnappings for ransom of Tamil businessmen forced Indian diplomats to take up the matter with the authorities after being petitioned by members of the "Indian Tamil" community.

This community, which is also into business, primarily populates Sri Lanka's tea growing central hills. Many also reside in Colombo.

India also remains in touch with peace facilitator Norway, which feels sidelined amid the violence and whose ceasefire agreement brokered in 2002 is now in shambles.

A proposed meeting of the co-chairs that oversees the still lingering peace process - the US, the European Union, Japan and Norway - is expected this month but unlike in the past, it may not draw top officials from these countries.

Instead, a truncated meeting could take place in Colombo, attended by ambassadors of the concerned countries. The co-chairs keep India informed about their deliberations.

In Colombo, Mukherjee was given a presentation by Science and Technology Minister Tissa Vitharana as to how the All Party Representatives Committee that he heads is trying to evolve a consensus on a political framework to govern the nation. The government set up the committee.

Vitharana told the Indian minister that he expects to come up with a report in about two months.