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Tamils' resettlement within six months, Sri Lanka tells India

world Updated: Jul 22, 2009 21:45 IST

Sri Lanka on Wednesday assured India that it has begun resettling over 300,000 civilians displaced by the military conflict and hoped it would be able to complete the process within six months.

As Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna held talks with his Sri Lankan counterpart Rohitha Bogollagama here, Colombo also assured New Delhi that it was committed to finding a political solution to address aspirations of the Tamil minority through devolution of powers.

The talks, which lasted for nearly half-an-hour, focused on the resettlement of Tamils living in over 30 temporary camps since the end of the conflict between the military and the Tamil Tigers in May.

During the discussions, Krishna focused on the plight of Tamil civilians, an issue that has a wider political resonance in India.

"We have impressed upon Sri Lanka that the immediate need to resettle 300,000 Tamils should get top billing in our agenda," said Krishna.

"They have assured us (that) within 180 days they will be able to resettle most civilians."

N. Ravi, secretary (East) in India's external affairs ministry, told journalists: "Sri Lanka appreciated India's support for internally displaced persons, especially family food packs sent by India.

"We reiterated our willingness to extend all support in resettlement and rehabilitation of Tamil civilians," Ravi said.

"India believes in a prosperous and peaceful Sri Lanka developing at its own pace and is looking at its relationship with the island nation in terms of a larger comprehensive economic partnership agreement," Ravi said.

Colombo stressed it was pursuing a political solution alongside the process of resettlement of civilians.

"Devolution is part of the constitution and implementation is part of the process. We have made significant progress," Bogollagama said.

He briefed Krishna about steps taken by the Sri Lankan government to resettle and rehabilitate the Tamils and the process of building political consensus over devolution of powers, informed sources said after the talks.

India has agreed to assist Sri Lanka in the rehabilitation of the Tamils, most of whom fled areas controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) before the rebels were decimated.

This was the first high-level contact between India and Sri Lanka after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met President Mahinda Rajapaksa on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in Egypt last week.

Krishna arrived in Phuket Tuesday night on a three-day visit aimed at boosting India's multi-faceted engagements with Southeast Asia and East Asia.

India has told Sri Lanka that the manner in which Colombo addresses the "legitimate concerns" of the Tamil population will impinge on the relationship between the two countries.