22 Oct : Voicing serious concern over "deteriorating humanitarian situation" in Sri Lanka, the government has said it has asked Colombo to ensure that the rights of Tamils in the island nation do not get "enmeshed" in the hostilities and that their safety is not compromised.
In a suo-motu statement in both Houses of Parliament on Sri Lanka situation on Wednesday, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said Colombo has assured New Delhi that the safety and well-being of the Tamil community there would be taken care of.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Senior Adviser Basil Rajapaksa will visit India shortly for discussions in this regard, Mukherjee said in the identical statement.
In Lok Sabha, he laid the statement as he was unable to read it out because of uproar created by Left parties over Kerala rice issue.
He reiterated the government’s conviction that there is no military solution to the ethnic conflict and stressed the need for a peacefully-negotiated political settlement within the framework of a united Sri Lanka respecting rights of the minorities, including the Tamil community.
"The situation in Sri Lanka is of serious concern to the government, in particular the deteriorating humanitarian situation in north of Sri Lanka," he said.
"We are concerned about the plight of the civilians caught in the hostilities and the growing number of internally displaced persons," Mukherjee said.
Mukherjee’s statement in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha came against the backdrop of increasing pressure from ally DMK and other Tamil political parties on the UPA government to act to stop conflict in Sri Lanka.
He said India has emphasised to the Sri Lankan government that the safety and security of civilians "must be safeguarded at all costs and that food and essential supplies be allowed to reach them unhindered" in the conflict zone.
"The rights and the welfare of the Tamil community of Sri Lanka should not get enmeshed in the ongoing hostilities against the LTTE," he said.
"We have been assured that the safety and well-being of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka will be taken care of," the External Affairs Minister said.
He said India is encouraging the Sri Lankan government to continue to nurture the democratic process in the Eastern Province as well.
Mukherjee said New Delhi has also taken up with Colombo the issue of safety of Indian fishermen.
"While it is important for our fishermen to respect the International Maritime Boundary Line, we have impressed on the Sri Lankan Navy to desist from firing on Indian fishermen," he said.
The two countries have agreed to work towards concluding practical arrangements to prevent such incidents.
Mukherjee, however, could not read out the statement in Lok Sabha because of din caused by protests by Left members over the alleged cut in rice quota to Kerala.
He regretted that he could not speak because of behaviour of the Left members.
In Rajya Sabha, he said he would make clarifications on Thursday.
No pressure from India on operations against LTTE: Lanka
Acknowledging India’s support in safeguarding its sovereignty and territorial integrity, Sri Lanka has said it is not feeling any heat from New Delhi due to its military campaign against the LTTE.
"There has been no such pressure," Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama told Parliament on Tuesday when asked whether pressure was being exerted on Colombo by New Delhi on the operations against the Tiger rebels.
Leftist JVP member Vijitha Herath also sought to know whether Sri Lankan government was "prepared to succumb to Indian pressure and implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and enhance the powers of Provincial Councils."
In his reply, Bogollagama said "we are awaiting the proposals of the All-Party Representatives Committee in this regard."
The Minister categorically said the government has not faced any kind of external pressure from any quarter regarding the operations by the security forces against terrorism and to disarm the LTTE, according to a Foreign Ministry statement.
Stating that New Delhi has made its position on defeating terrorism very clear, Bogollagama added that "if there is a country that has helped Sri Lanka to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity, it is India".
The minister said that during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s telephonic conversation with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the Sri Lankan leader briefed Singh on the island country’s present course of action to defeat terrorism, disarm the LTTE and restore peace in the embattled north.
"An important matter which was discussed was the issue of civilians displaced due to the conflict," he said, adding Sri Lanka had a long history of effectively and efficiently dealing with internally displaced persons (IDPs).
For the last 15 to 16 years, the government has looked after Muslims in the IDP camps in Puttalam district in the east coast, Bogollagama explained.
Even after the A9 Highway road route near northern Jaffna was blocked, the government ensured that an estimated six lakh people in Jaffna peninsula were provided with food and essential supplies by sea, the minister said.
Sri Lanka has also earned international praise for the manner in which the government took care of the safety and well being of civilians during the Eastern Province clearing operations last year, the minister told the House.
He said Rajapaksa assured the Indian Prime Minister that the Sri Lankan government was taking all measures for the welfare and the safety of the civilians displaced, particularly in the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts.
The minister highlighted the strong bonds of friendship and trust that the Rajapaksa administration has forged with India, as a manifestation of the longstanding and historical ties between Sri Lanka and India, the statement said.
Bogollagama said both India and Sri Lanka were maintaining a sustained and cordial dialogue at a very high political level.
Referring to concerns expressed by politicians in Tamil Nadu, he said that in a democracy there was space for protests and room for expressing divergent views and opinions.
On the rally in Rameswaram on Sunday, Bogollagama said the action of the Tamil Nadu police demonstrated to the "LTTE activists and sympathisers" that India regards the rebels’ outfit as a "terrorist organisation" which is banned in the country.
"This was manifested by the Tamil Nadu police removing the LTTE flags that were displayed," the release quoted the minister as claiming.