As the conflict in Sri Lanka entered the “final phase” of military operations, India blamed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for the death of civilians caught in the conflict zone and offered to work with Colombo to evacuate them.
External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee — who faces the tough task of balancing India’s diplomatic objectives in Sri Lanka with political compulsions in Tamil Nadu — promised protesting Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) lawmakers that the government is committed to doing everything possible to ensure the safety of innocent Tamils.
Mukherjee, however, brushed aside demands from MDMK and UPA ally PMK, dressed in black, for Indian intervention to stop the onslaught by the Sri Lankan army. “The government of India has no instrumentality under which it can force a sovereign government to take a particular action. This is not possible,” he responded.
Lok Sabha had already been adjourned twice earlier by the protesting MPs. Speaker Somnath Chatterjee allowed a few MPs to make their point, one by one, rather than disrupt the proceedings. But Mukherjee’s response prompted them to walk out of the house to express their dissatisfaction. The external affairs minister had earlier outlined at length the government’s line on Sri Lanka, where the military has almost overwhelmed the LTTE.
He said India was prepared to facilitate evacuation of civilians trapped in the area of conflict. In this, Delhi would work with Colombo and ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) “who would take responsibility for the security, screening and rehabilitation of these internally displaced persons”.
“As the conflict enters what may be the final phase of military operations, the LTTE would best serve the interest of the Tamils by immediately releasing all civilians and laying down arms,” he said.
In one of the most critical statements against the LTTE, the minister accused the Tigers of having “done much damage to the Tamil community” and in recent incidents, killing civilians trying to escape being caught in the cross fire.
“In this context, the earlier normal democratic political processes begin in Sri Lanka, the better,” he said, sighting the first “political opportunity” over the last two decades to restore normalcy in the northern provinces of Sri Lanka.
Mukherjee also laid out the road map of this opportunity, calling the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to give effect to the 1987 Accord signed by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi as the “significant first step”.