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Lanka may turn a deaf ear to Pranab

With blasts killing 21 people, Lanka will be in no mood for a sermon, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Jan 08, 2007 18:15 IST

With two bomb blasts killing 21 Sinhala civilians near Colombo last week, Sri Lankan leaders will not be in a mood to listen to any sermon from the visiting Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee about the need to end the war now and go for a negotiated settlement with the LTTE.

Though Mukherjee's two-day visit beginning on Tuesday is primarily meant to invite President Mahinda Rajapaksa for the SAARC summit in New Delhi in April, he is expected to express India's concerns about the direction the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict is taking, especially the large-scale displacement of Tamil civilians and the de-merger of the Tamil-speaking Northern and Eastern Provinces.

These issues have begun to engage New Delhi's attention particularly because they are agitating the political parties in Tamil Nadu, some of which are members or allies of the United Peoples' Alliance government at the Centre.

Coming to the island close on the heels of the blasts, Mukherjee is unlikely to press issues.

Even if he does, the Sri Lankan side will either turn a deaf ear, or counter him firmly.

Events in the last month or so have made the Sri Lankan government take a tougher stand against the LTTE than before.

December 2006 began with an attempt on the life of the President's brother and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

The New Year began with a blast in Nittambuwa near Colombo killing six civilians. Within two days, a blast in Seenigama, also near Colombo, killed 15 civilians.

The government and the media promptly blamed the LTTE for the blasts as bus bombs had been its stock-in-trade. The LTTE's denial was brushed aside.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that by killing civilians, the LTTE was trying to provoke a communal backlash.

What he was hinting at was that the LTTE was killing Sinhala civilians to provoke them to kill Tamils on the pattern of the infamous 1983 anti-Tamil riots. Rajapaksa asked Sinhalas not to fall into the LTTE's trap.

While painting the LTTE in black, the government has made South Sri Lankans believe that its armed forces have attacked only identified military targets in the Tamil-speaking North and East, and never Tamil civilians per se.

Given the present mood in South Sri Lanka, any dilution of the tough stand against the LTTE will make the Rajapaksa government unpopular among the majority Sinhala community, its power base.

In fact, last week's bombings have led to extraordinary security measures in and around Colombo to make the people feel that the government is alive to the dangers from terrorism.

On Monday, the state-owned Daily News quoted Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as saying that citizens should report about suspicious houses and persons, and even "arrest suspected terrorists."

Media reports said that there could be a ban on taking bulky packages into buses and trains.

First Published: Jan 08, 2007 15:01 IST