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Indian PM's participation in SL independence day not fixed

[TamilNet, Saturday, 05 January 2008, 17:12 GMT]
Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogolloagama had to hastily retract on Friday his earlier claim that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will participate in the 60th Independence Day celebrations of Sri Lanka on February 4, 2008. A few weeks ago, Mr. Bogollagama told Parliament that Sri Lanka had invited Dr. Manmohan Singh to be the chief guest of the independence day function. The information that the dates of Manmohan Singh's proposed visit to Colombo have not been finalized was revealed a day after Bogollagama called the Indian High Commissioner Alok Prasad to inform him about GoSL's decision to abrogate the almost six-year old CFA agreement with the LTTE, informed sources said.

The Indian establishment has been worried that Dr. Singh's trip could project a wrong signal that New Delhi was supporting Colombo's ruthless military approach, the sources further said.

According to reports in the Indian media, the Indian High Commissioner reportedly told the GoSL Foreign Minister that New Delhi was "concerned" about the escalating violence in the island and "would like to see faster progress on a political package for the resolution of the ethnic conflict." However, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister merely blamed Dr.Singh's absence on the unavailability of dates.

If the dates had been fixed, it would have been the first bilateral visit by an Indian Prime Minister in two decades. News of Manmohan Singh's possible participation in the Sri Lankan Independence Day celebrations was also protested by several political parties from the southern Indian state of Tamilnadu.

Reportedly, India had wanted the Mahinda Rajapaksa government to put forth a credible devolution proposal aimed at resolving the ethnic strife ahead of Singh's visit so that the trip could be justified to fellow Indians. The GoSL foreign minister's announcement of Manmohan Singh's plans to visit Colombo had surprised India, because New Delhi wanted to link his trip to progress in the peace process in the island nation. Now, Bogolloagama's own admission has proved that he has spoken pre-maturely and with total ignorance of the Indian prime minister's priorities, the sources further said.

Indian news analysts say that there is increasing concern in New Delhi over the derailed peace process, including the GoSL-sponsored All Party Representative Committee (APRCs)'s delay in unveiling a proposal with the consensus of major Sinhalese parties of to end the ethnic strife. Colombo's irreverent attitude on the issues of power-sharing and devolution have worried the Indian government which is reflected in its non-committal approach on a Sri Lankan visit by Manmohan Singh.

Whenever Indian leaders have met their Sri Lankan counterparts, in New Delhi, Colombo, or elsewhere, they have emphasized the need for a negotiated political settlement and an end to civilian suffering. The bottom line in India's approach is that peace in Sri Lanka is not possible without meeting the legitimate political aspirations of the Tamils.

India's preference for an interim administration is Sri Lanka's predominantly Tamil northeast has made the Mahinda Rajapaksa government advertise its attempts to recognize Tamil aspirations. In the process, the GoSL has hired SLA-backed paramilitaries to contest elections in the eastern district of Batticaola. But New Delhi is not to be hoodwinked that easily, it is aware that Sri Lankan Tamils, disappointed by Colombo's disinterest in political settlement, have started blaming New Delhi's inaction for the pathetic state of affairs.

Besides, Indian political parties would not favour Manmohan Singh to embrace a Sri Lankan regime that speaks of war, but is silent on the question of political settlement.

The GoSL's decision to abrogate the ceasefire agreement has worried India which has ruled out the possibility of a military solution. India's insistence that it favours Sri Lanka's territorial unity has often been mistakenly interpreted by Colombo as a stand which is supportive of unbridled military offensives by the state, regardless of innocent civilian causalities.

While Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has visited India four times since taking office in November 2005, no Indian prime minister has made a bilateral visit to Sri Lanka since 1987 when Rajiv Gandhi signed a peace accord with then president J. R. Jayewardene. Other Indian prime ministers went to Colombo only to attend SAARC summits. Dr. Singh is also expected to be in Sri Lanka this year as SAARC Chairman to attend the 15th summit.


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