Lankan president likely to visit India

Sources say the visit may take place around Nov 17, which marks the first anniversary of his Rajapaksa's presidency.

india Updated: Nov 04, 2006 15:15 IST

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is likely to visit India soon, informed sources said on Saturday.

Although the president is coming to attend a conference, he is expected to make the trip only if he can get to meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the sources told the agency via telephone from Colombo.

The finer details of the journey are yet to be worked out.

The conference Rajapaksa is to attend will be taking place in Dehradun in Uttaranchal. He will first fly to New Delhi from Colombo and then head to the town.

According to the sources, the visit may take place around November 17, which marks the first anniversary of his presidency.

This will be Rajapakse's second visit to India since he was elected the president a year ago following a close contest against Ranil Wickremesinghe, now the opposition leader.

Like many Sri Lankan leaders, Rajapaksa chose India to make his first foreign trip as the president. His state visit took place in December 2005.

But that visit did not go well from Colombo's point of view, and officials there felt that India had not come out in support of Sri Lanka as strongly as they would have wished.

To add to Rajapaksa's woes, then Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayaram Jayalalitha declined to meet the president.

Rajapaksa would discuss this time with Manmohan Singh the situation in Sri Lanka, where more than 2,000 people have been killed in renewed violence this year between the government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Like other international players in Sri Lanka's now wobbly peace process, India is seriously worried over escalating violence in which most victims are innocent civilians, mostly Tamils.

More than 15,000 Tamils have fled to Tamil Nadu, separated from Sri Lanka by a narrow strip of sea.

While New Delhi remains committed to Sri Lanka's territorial integrity, it is clear that the Tamil minority should be given sufficient autonomy so that their legitimate political aspirations are met.

But despite five years of the peace process, there seems to be no meeting point between Sri Lanka, particularly the Rajapaksa administration, and the LTTE. Both sides are seemingly determined not to make major compromises.

India has been a long-time advocate of a consensus in Sri Lanka's Sinhalese polity, arguing that there can never be a solution to the ethnic conflict unless Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the opposition United National Party (UNP) move together on the issue.

The SLFP and UNP have since come together but Sri Lanka watchers here admit that it is only the beginning of what could turn out a long and bumpy road ahead.

In any case, there is a huge gap between what any government in Colombo can offer in lieu of separation and what the Tamil Tigers would be ready to accept.

India, however, remains strongly supportive of Norway's role as peace facilitator although it does not completely see eye to eye with some of the other international actors.

First Published: Nov 04, 2006 13:18 IST