India lauds Sri Lanka’s safe passage offer to Tamil civilians


New Delhi : India Thursday lauded the Sri Lankan government’s announcement of granting a safe passage to Tamil civilians trapped in the war-hit northern parts of the island nation and hoped that the conditions of civilians will improve in days to come.

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“The government of India welcomes this important announcement and hopes that with the implementation of these steps, the condition of the civilians caught up in the conflict, will improve,” Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told reporters here late Thursday night.

Menon was reacting to the announcement by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa that he has urged the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to allow free movement of civilians trapped in northern areas to ensure their safety and security.

“We are happy to see the steps that are being taken by Sri Lanka and we hope that all these civilians would now be able to move to safety,” Menon said while stressing that the safety of civilians figured prominently in discussions between External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee with President Rajapaksa when the former visited Colombo this week.

“And for all the civilians, he (Rajapaksa) has assured a safe passage to a secure environment and also assured all those living in the northern and conflict areas in particular, that vacating the LTTE-held areas will ensure their physical security and enable peace, freedom and rights for all citizen of the country,” Mneon said.

“We understand that necessary instructions to this effect, to enable the implementation of these steps, have been given,” he added.

Menon’s remarks come amid concerns expressed after political parties in Tamil Nadu about the plight of Tamil civilians caught in the conflict between the government troops and the LTTE.

When Mukherjee visited Colombo Tuesday, Rajapaksa told him that he had invited Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and AIDMK leader J. Jayalalitha to Sri Lanka to persuade the Tamil Tiger rebels to lay down their arms and enter into the democratic mainstream.

Mukherjee said the humanitarian situation in the northern war-zone came up for discussion and President Rajapaksa assured him that his government would minimise the civilian sufferings.

“In course of our discussions, President Rajapaksa agreed to expand the safe zones and also ensure that there is no shelling, firing in the safe zone,” Mukherjee told reporters in New Delhi soon his return here Wednesday.

“He (Rajapaksa) appealed to all concerned to allow the civilians to go to the safe zones so that food, shelter, medicine and safety could be provided to them,” he said.

“We further requested and the president agreed to ensure that the relief material, which we are sending, reaches the persons who are affected by the impact of this conflict,” Mukherjee had said.