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SL crisis: Japan invites India to co-chairs

Almost all those involved in the peace process in Sri Lanka have been wanting India to take a more active part in it.

india Updated: May 10, 2006 22:10 IST

Japan has invited India to join the co-chairs of the Tokyo Donors' Conference, the Japanese Special Peace Envoy for Sri Lanka, Yasushi Akashi, told newspersons in Colombo on Wednesday.

On the response from India to the invitation, Akashi said that the "indications were positive."

The Japanese peace envoy, who would be in New Delhi for talks with the Indian leaders on Thursday, said that at the meeting of the co-chairs to be held in Tokyo at the end of May, procedural changes would be made to render participation "comfortable" for India.

Having banned the LTTE, following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, India cannot sit with the LTTE at the same table.

Akashi did not spell out how this problem could be circumvented, but said that Indian diplomatic representatives had attended two meetings of the co-chairs earlier.

The international community, which is playing a key role in the Sri Lankan peace process since February 2002, is represented by the co-chairs of the Aid Lanka Conference held in Tokyo in June 2003.

The co-chairs are US, EU, Japan and Norway.

The mega donors' conference had pledged $4.5 billion to Sri Lanka if the two warring parties, namely, the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, showed progress in achieving peace in the island.

Need for India's participation

Almost all those involved in the peace process in Sri Lanka have been wanting India to take a more active part in it.

There has been a persistent demand from the Sinhala-dominated South Sri Lanka, that India should take a lead role.

Between 2003 and 2004, the United National Party (UNP) government, headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, had pressed India to join the co-chairs of the Tokyo Donors' Conference, to give weight to the peace process facilitated by Norway.

The UNP governments' case was that India, as the regional power with the greatest strategic and political interest in peace and security in Sri Lanka, should take a lead role, or a substantial and direct role, in the peace process in the island.

Sinhala political parties in South Sri Lanka, who do not trust Norway and the Western powers, have also been clamouring for a direct Indian role.

They trust India more, because it has an intrinsic interest in seeing that Sri Lanka remains an undivided country, free from separatist terrorism of the kind represented by the LTTE.

But because of the LTTE's proscription in India, and also because of a bitter past experience of assuming a direct role, India has been keeping a distance, while insisting on being kept fully informed about every development in the peace process.

India wants SL to work on political package

While India fully agrees with the Sri Lankan government's assessment that the LTTE is not serious about the peace process and is itching for war, it also wants Sri Lanka to work on a consensus-based political package to solve the Tamil problem.

This view was conveyed to the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera when he met top Indian leaders in New Delhi on May 8 and 9, highly placed sources told Hindustan Times over the phone from the Indian capital on Wednesday.

Indian leaders and officials appreciated the Sri Lankan armed forces' patience and restraint in the face of grave provocations by the LTTE and said that a peaceful negotiated settlement, and not war, was the best way of solving the ethnic question.

They gently conveyed the message that the only way out of the present sticky situation was to work for a "southern consensus" on a political solution to the conflict, a political package to be precise.

The Indian leaders urged the Sri Lankans to work out at least the broad contours of a possible political solution, the sources said.

The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister said that consensus was being worked out through the All-Party Conferences convened by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The government was working out the broad contours of a possible political settlement, Samaraweera said.

However, so far, all that the Sri Lankan government has said is that it wants to devolve power to the Tamil-speaking areas, within the contours of a unitary constitution.

The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister said that while President Rajapaksa was all for talks, the LTTE did not seem interested in a peaceful, negotiated settlement, considering the number of security forces personnel it had killed in recent months.

Samaraweera wanted the international community to put political and financial pressure on the LTTE so that it was compelled to come to the negotiating table.

Sources said that the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister's two-day visit to New Delhi was basically a public relations exercise, "a charm offensive" to develop close, personal ties with top Indian leaders across the political board.

Samaraweera had met as many as 18 leaders in two days.

First Published: May 10, 2006 19:43 IST