Rehabilitate refugees, Pranab to SL
Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday asked Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to see that the Armed Forces did not inflict casualties on civilians and take quick steps to rehabilitate civilians displaced by the war.
Speaking to Indian newsmen after a one-to-one meeting with President Rajapaksa, and discussions with Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wikramanayake and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, Mukherjee said that war was no way of settling the ethnic conflict and urged them to re-start the process of negotiations.
In Colombo primarily to invite President Rajapaksa to participate in the summit of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to be held in New Delhi in early April, Mukherjee spoke about the impact of civilian casualties and civilian displacement on Tamil Nadu and India.
He explained to the Sri Lankan side that New Delhi's concern did not stem from the compulsions of coalition politics (meaning undue pressure from the DMK which is also ruling Tamil Nadu), but from a genuine humanitarian standpoint.
The concern was all-India, cutting across political divisions, he stressed.
Over 250,000 civilians, mostly Tamils, had been displaced and 3,500 killed in 2006 alone. 15,000 had fled to India by boat.
Mukherjee raised the issue of constitutional reform and said that this should be settled through negotiations.
The Sri Lankan side told him that within two months, a comprehensive political package would be worked out after hearing from all political parties.
On the de-merger of the northeast, Mukherjee was aware that it had to be done because of a Supreme Court ruling declaring the merger as unlawful. He said that it was for the Sri Lankan government to take steps to take up the issue legally.
On their part, the Sri Lankan leaders pointed out that their Armed Forces did not go for the civilians wantonly and that it was the LTTE which was creating civilian casualties by using civilians as a human shield.
It was also pointed out how the LTTE was killing civilians wantonly as it did last week in Nittambuwa and in Seenigama, not too far from Colombo.
A planned meeting with the Leader of the Opposition, Ranil Wickremesinghe, could not take place because he was out of the country.
There were no formal meetings with the Tamil and Muslim parties. However, the leaders of these parties were present at a reception given to Mukherjee at "India House" in the evening.
The minister leaves for the Maldives on Wednesday morning.