India urged to take the lead to end Sri Lanka conflict

By M.R. Narayan Swamy, IANS

New Delhi : Two Sri Lankan leaders – one a cabinet minister and one from the opposition – and Indian politician Vaiko have urged India to play an active role to help end the island nation’s protracted ethnic conflict.

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Speaking separately on telephone from Oslo at the end of a two-day international conference, all three said that there was an urgent need to end the fighting now raging in Sri Lanka.

“Nothing can be achieved by war. There has to be a dialogue between the government and the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam),” Sri Lankan Minister for Youth Empowerment and Socio-Economic Development Arumugam Thondaman told IANS.

Thondaman, one of the key invitees to the conference organised by the Art of Living Foundation of Indian spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, said he had conveyed this both to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Indian diplomats in Colombo.

A Tamil of Indian origin whose political base is in the country’s central highlands, Thondaman explained why New Delhi would have to play a major role in a resolution of the conflict that has claimed some 70,000 lives since 1983.

“India is the regional superpower,” he said. “Nothing can be done in Sri Lanka without the blessings of India. India needs to get involved.”

Asked if the LTTE would care to listen to India since New Delhi has outlawed the group, he evaded a direct reply: “Today’s situation is such that war will not work.”

Jayalath Jayawardene, an MP from the main opposition United National Party (UNP), called for an “active role” for India in Sri Lanka without specifying what exactly he wanted New Delhi to do.

“India is our big brother. We expect a very, very active role by India along with Norway to bring about peace in Sri Lanka.

“India has to be more active… India had advocated devolution powers (to minorities) way back in 1987. After so many years, the president has accepted that this could be one way ahead. We are very happy about that.”

For decades India has been intimately involved in the Sri Lankan conflict. In 1987 it deployed troops in Sri Lanka’s northeast to end the Tamil separatist drive and then took on the LTTE.

After the Tamil Tigers assassinated former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, the Indian interest in Sri Lanka began to wane. But in recent years the situation has changed, with New Delhi solidly backing Norwegian mediation in Sri Lanka.

Jayawardene also accused the Sri Lankan government of “ignoring the realities” and pursuing a militaristic path to overcome the LTTE. “We don’t believe a military solution will work.”

Vaiko, who heads the MDMK party in Tamil Nadu, told IANS that he would call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and urge him to put pressure on Sri Lanka to call off its military onslaught against the LTTE.

“India is duty bound towards the Tamils… India has to appeal to Sri Lanka to stop fighting and go for negotiations. But India has not shown any real interest (in ending the conflict). It should not shirk its responsibility.”

Vaiko said he felt that if Colombo made the right moves, the LTTE might respond positively.

Seevali Nayaka Thero, a Sinhalese Buddhist monk who lives in Jaffna, also made a passionate plea for peace.

“We need to stop this war,” he said, speaking in Tamil. “Killings can bring about no solution. I have been saying this to everyone in Sri Lanka… the president, the politicians, the monks, the ordinary people.”