Be 'flexible' at Geneva, India tells Sri Lanka
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Be 'flexible' at Geneva, India tells Sri Lanka

India's Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran made the suggestion to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa during a meet in Colombo.

india Updated: Feb 15, 2006 17:18 IST

India has advised Sri Lanka to be "flexible" during talks with the Tamil Tiger guerrillas in Geneva next week.

Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran made the suggestion to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa during a meeting in Colombo on Monday, official sources told the agency on Wednesday.

Measuring his words carefully, the foreign secretary told the president that it would be good for Sri Lanka to show political flexibility without compromising its stand on basic issues related to the country's territorial integrity.

Saran met the president accompanied by two officials from the Indian external affairs ministry and High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Nirupama Rao.

Saran and his colleagues were on their way back from the Maldives, after attending a routine meeting of the two countries' foreign secretaries, when they halted for a few hours in the Sri Lankan capital.

The Indian foreign secretary also met the Sri Lankan foreign minister and the foreign secretary and discussed bilateral issues.

Bilateral relations also came up for discussion with Rajapaksa.

While not desiring to play any active role in Sri Lanka's peace process, New Delhi will be keeping a close watch on the Feb 22-23 Geneva meeting between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The talks, which Norwegian facilitator Erik Solheim has warned would be "tough", are going to centre on the implementation of the Norway-sponsored ceasefire agreement of February 2002 that has come under a lot of strain.

The LTTE wants Colombo to stop backing Tamil "paramilitary" groups ranged against it and dismantle high security zones in Tamil areas. The government says the Tigers are continuing with targeted killings.

India, which outlawed the LTTE for its involvement in the 1991 assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, favours a negotiated settlement to the lingering ethnic conflict that has claimed thousands of lives since 1983.

New Delhi has also spoken in support of a federal power sharing in the island but many Sri Lankan politicians consider the "federal" word anathema.

In an interview this week, President Rajapaksa reiterated that Sri Lanka would agree to devolve powers only within a unitary concept.

"This is a small country, where you cannot have two states," he said. "I won't allow the country to be divided... There is no Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka. There cannot be an Eelam."

In November, LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran warned that the Tigers would resume their separatist war until Colombo came up with a credible alternative to the demand for an independent Tamil state.

This was followed by a sharp rise in violence in December and January. Solheim flew to Sri Lanka in the third week of January and announced that the two sides would meet for the first time in three years in Geneva.

First Published: Feb 15, 2006 17:15 IST