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‘War not way to peace’ - India

As Sri Lanka’s military launched a new offensive against the Liberation Tigers this week, India re-iterated that war was not the way to resolve the island’s conflict.

“We do not believe that war is the way out...We do not think violence, whether from LTTE’s side or an armed conflict, can resolve any issue,” press reports quoted India’s Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran as saying in Delhi Monday. Meanwhile, The Hindu newspaper reported that, worried over the violence in Sri Lanka, peace-facilitator Norway and India “are engaged in quiet consultations to defuse the situation.”

Responding to diplomatic correspondents’ questions, Mr. Saran said: “we have not accepted that the LTTE is the sole champion of Tamil interests.”

“There is the larger issue of welfare, interests and aspirations of the Tamil-speaking population,” he also said.

With regard the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka, Mr. Saran said the situation there has a “certain sensibility” for India “because as soon as there is an armed conflict or any hostility, a large number of Tamil-speaking people try to take shelter [in this country].”

Asked about India’s position on a solution, Mr. Saran said: “India does not support the issue of a separate state being carved of Sri Lanka. India is committed to territorial integrity and sovereignty of that country.”

Diplomatic correspondents say India, along with many other backers of the Norwegian peace process, has been advocating powersharing along federal lines as a way of resolving the decades long conflict. India stresses that a solution must be acceptable to all Sri Lankans.

With this in mind, India has been pushing for a southern consensus on a power-sharing model that Sri Lanka could offer to end the conflict. But the ruling SLFP of President Mahinda Rajapakse and the main opposition UNP haven’t been able reach a bi-partisan approach.

Maintaining that India had very “big stakes” in Sri Lanka, Mr. Saran said India had not joined the “co-chairs’ process” because its “sensitive relationship” with Colombo “does not lend itself to group responses as envisaged by the co-chairs.”

But India could not afford a “hands-off” attitude towards Sri Lanka as New Delhi had too much at stake, Mr. Saran was also quoted by The Hindu newspaper as saying.

The Co-chairs – the United States, European Union, Japan and Norway – have been the main international grouping backing Olso’s peace initiative. India, which declined to join despite intense lobbying by the quartet, has been kept informed of moves and developments by Oslo.

The Sunday Leader newspaper reported this week that “given the seriousness of the situation, the Co-Chairs were discussing the possibilities of advancing their September 12 meeting for the first week especially with India also pushing for urgent steps with an assurance they could participate at an observer level.”

That was before the Sri Lanka military offensive on Monday to recapture the LTTE-held area of Sampur in Trincomalee. In heavy bombardments by the military, 20 Tamil civilians were killed and 26 wounded.

11 Sri Lanka Army (SLA) soldiers were killed and 79 wounded, AFP reported. LTTE officials in Trincomalee said 3 Tiger cadres were killed and 5 wounded.

On Monday The Hindu newspaper quoted Indian officials as confirming that Mr. Saran had been in Oslo a few days ago for an exchange of views on the situation in Sri Lanka and to discuss possible ways to de-escalate the crisis.

“India and Norway are perturbed over the unending cycle of violence in Sri Lanka. Mr. Saran made an unannounced visit to Norway last week to review the situation as well as to consider what the Co-Chairs and others engaged in the peace process could do to put a break to the hostilities,” The Hindu quoted a senior Indian official as saying.

On August 8, Delhi urged Colombo to pursue the peace process when India’s Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed to visiting Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera

Emphasising that there was no military solution to the island’s problems, the Indian Minister was quoted by PTI as saying there was a need to initiate talks between the Sri Lankan government and LTTE to resolve all issues.

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