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India unhappy with Sri Lanka Govt over fighting

India feels the fighting in Sri Lanka has the potential to derail the Oct 28-29 talks between Colombo and the Tamil Tigers in Geneva.

india Updated: Oct 16, 2006 12:51 IST

India is deeply unhappy with the continuing fighting in Sri Lanka that has the potential to derail the Oct 28-29 talks between Colombo and the Tamil Tigers in Geneva.

While there is no ingrained sympathy for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in New Delhi, much of the present disappointment is with the Sri Lankan government for pursuing a military offensive that arguably can never lead to an outright victory.

The Indian establishment feels that while Colombo reserves the right to take steps it deems fit in response to terror attacks, its attempt to crush the LTTE militarily over the last two months was an ill advised move.

In that sense, the reverses suffered by the Sri Lankan military in the island's north last week has put a dampener on Colombo's perceived intentions of seizing large tracts of the island's east as well as the Elephant Pass, a narrow isthmus linking Jaffna peninsula with the mainland, so as to talk in Geneva with an air of superiority.

It is accepted in New Delhi that the LTTE committed many provocative acts, particularly by trying to assassinate Sri Lanka's Army chief in April. But Colombo, it is said, went overboard, goaded by those "Sinhala nationalists" who oppose any dialogue with the Tigers except on government terms.

The Sri Lankan government disregarded in the process repeated appeals from India and the rest of the international community, which wanted both sides to adhere to the Norway sponsored 2002 ceasefire in all sincerity.

But with the military delivering morale-shattering blows to the LTTE in the east, and mistaking the lack of support to the Tigers in any country as an apparent sign of backing for Colombo, over-confidence set in.

This led to the Sri Lankan offensive in Muhamalai, Kilali and Nagerkovil areas near Jaffna on Oct 11 that led to a terrible setback for the military at the hands of an LTTE that was ready for such a drive despite its inferiority in manpower and weaponry.

The outcome has shattered the government's carefully laid out plans.

What is of significance is that sections of the Sri Lankan political establishment had conveyed to India their unhappiness with their government's aggressive tactics, predicting that this was doomed to trip one day. That happened in Jaffna.

Those who have dealt with the LTTE over a long period of time in India feel it is foolhardy to think that there can be any solution other than a negotiated one and are more than convinced that neither side can achieve an outright military victory.

What has upset Indians is that despite professing the best of intentions, New Delhi's pleas were shunned, with disastrous consequences on the battlefield.

"Only about three months ago they were pleading for our help. Suddenly they were behaving as if they were capable of destroying the LTTE," a source with access to high-level thinking said in New Delhi. "It was foolishness."

While India is pleased that the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the main opposition United National Party are on a fence-mending drive, with an eye on resolving the ethnic conflict, New Delhi is clear on two issues: Sri Lanka should not be broken up, and there has to be a federal governance that will satisfy the legitimate political aspirations of the Tamil minority.

Pointed out that federalism was anathema to many Sinhalese, the source, speaking strictly on condition of anonymity, said: "Then Sri Lanka must be prepared to face the consequences."

Irrespective of how long it lasts, New Delhi thinks that only a genuine ceasefire that takes care of the interests of ordinary people in the island's northeast will ultimately prove to be the key to peace.

Unending bloodshed, which kills innocents and displaces civilians on a large scale, can only further boost hardliners on both sides of the ethnic divide.

First Published: Oct 16, 2006 12:51 IST