Vol. 5 Num 568 Sat. December 31, 2005  

Lankan Peace Process
Delhi offers support, but no direct involvement

India yesterday repeated its support for Sri Lanka's peace process but skirted a request by visiting President Mahinda Rajapakse to play a greater role in helping end conflict in the troubled island.

A joint statement issued at the end of Rajapakse's four-day visit to India said New Delhi had offered "to provide intellectual and academic resources in support of the peace process" but made no mention of involvement at government level.

Ahead of his visit, Rajapakse had said he hoped India would get more involved in efforts to bring peace to the island where an upsurge in violence has triggered fears of a slide back to civil war.

India has sought to steer clear of the Sri Lankan conflict after its disastrous military involvement during the 1980s in which it dispatched a peacekeeping force to Tamil-held regions but ended up battling the rebels.

New Delhi withdrew its forces after more than 1,200 Indian troops died.

Since then, India has preferred to concentrate on economic cooperation with its neighbour where more than 60,000 people have died in three decades of ethnic conflict between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils.

In Friday's statement, India "reiterated its support for a process of seeking a negotiated political settlement acceptable to all sections of Sri Lankan society...

"The Indian side expressed the hope that a political settlement of the ethnic issue ... would emerge through negotiations between the parties concerned," it added.

Rajapakse, it said, had apprised Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of the surge of violence in Sri Lanka's northeast which has cost 83 lives this month despite the truce that has been in place since February 23, 2002.

"The two leaders deplored violations of the ceasefire, which could undermine the prospects for peace in Sri Lanka," it said.

"Both sides emphasized the need for the strict observance of the ceasefire and immediate resumption of talks aimed at strengthening the ceasefire."

Rajapakse's visit to India, which has a sizeable Tamil population, was his first foreign trip since winning the November 17 presidential election.