India hopeful of political solutions to Sri Lanka’s conflict

By P. Karunakharan, IANS,

Colombo : A high-powered Indian delegation led by National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan, which held talks with President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo Saturday, has expressed hope that Sri Lanka would find a political solution and eschew military solutions to the island nation’s protracted ethnic conflict, a top official here said.

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Accompanying Narayanan at the meeting with Rajapaksa were Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and Defence Secretary Vijay Singh.

“India hopes that Sri Lanka can find peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict within the framework of united Sri Lanka, acceptable to all the communities. There are no military solutions,” a senior Indian government official, commenting on the visit, told Indian journalists here.

The Indian delegation also met senior members of the coalition government during their two-day, previously unannounced visit here from Friday. They returned to New Delhi Saturday evening.

Describing the visit as “constructive and successful”, the senior Indian official said that the consultations centred “on issues of mutual interest as is usual between the two close and friendly neighbours”.

“The delegation was briefed on the developments in Sri Lanka and they discussed bilateral relations and their strengthening,” the official said, adding that the views on the upcoming South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summit in Colombo were also exchanged.

There was no statement from the government of Sri Lanka on the visit so far.

An official attached to the Presidential Secretariat said Friday that the “visit is part of the ongoing consultation between Sri Lanka and India on the current developments”, in an obvious reference to the conflict raging in the island nation.

The official also pointed out that a Sri Lankan delegation comprising Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the president’s secretary Lalith Weeratunga and presidential advisor Basil Rajapaksa went to New Delhi in late 2007.

Commenting on the Indian visit, retired Sri Lankan diplomat and political analyst K. Nanda Godage said, “The very composition of the Indian delegation itself shows the visit is something special and not a just routine one.

“I don’t think it is just a return visit or courtesy visit. It certainly cannot be anything to do merely with the security arrangement for the Saarc summit either,” he said.

“We hope this is a visit to convey a positive message from India that it is fully behind Sri Lanka in its effort to solve the ethnic conflict,” said Godage, who had served in New Delhi as the Deputy High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in the late 1980s.