to help remake northern Sri Lanka
M.R. Narayan Swamy
New Delhi, Feb 9 (IANS) As it steps up pressure on Sri Lanka
to halt killings of civilians in its war zone, India is preparing
a major reconstruction package for the island nation's troubled
After initially keeping mum even at the cost of alienating
a traditionally friendly ethnic group, New Delhi has given
up its policy of not speaking out publicly against Colombo
by repeatedly calling for an end to Tamil civilian suffering
that has caused global outrage.
External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has in recent days
urged Sri Lanka to ensure that Tamil civilians trapped in
the northern war zone were not targeted in the fighting between
the Tamil Tigers and the military.
"Please make a distinction between the LTTE (Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam) and Tamil civilians," Mukherjee
said Saturday, betraying a degree of impatience vis-a-vis
Colombo. He was speaking at a meeting of thousands of Congress
activists and leaders that included party president Sonia
Also, Mukherjee and other government and Congress leaders
repeatedly describe the LTTE as terrorist to politically puncture
street protests in Tamil Nadu in support of the group. The
term also pleases Colombo.
At the same time, in the calculation that the LTTE will never
be able to bounce back militarily to its original self, India
is putting together a major package for Sri Lanka's Tamil-majority
north in a bid to boost economic activity in a region that
has seen virtually no development for decades.
To begin with, India proposes to clean up Kankesanthurai port
in Jaffna peninsula. The rehabilitation of the Palali air
base in Jaffna is to be speeded up. There will be much more,
worth millions of rupees.
The Indian government began going public over Sri Lanka after
realising that the military appeared to have crossed the red
line vis-a-vis the civilian population in Mullaitivu district
where large numbers of men, women and children are holed up
in a small area still held by the LTTE.
Rights groups, diplomats and fleeing Tamils have alleged that
scores of civilians have been killed and seriously wounded
as troops pound suspected LTTE positions in Mullaitivu.
Even designated "safe zones" have not been spared,
fuelling disgust. A hospital has also been hit. This has not
gone down well in New Delhi, which is otherwise sympathetic
Privately too, India has conveyed in unmistakable terms that
Sri Lanka's priority must be to protect the Tamil civilians.
In India's view, while civilian casualties will take place
in any war, it cannot be accepted beyond a point.
The civilian plight has generated so much heat that India
thinks that even the promised devolution of power in Sri Lanka
can fall in place later.
Other countries are also pressing India to act. Dutch Foreign
Minister Per Stig Moller telephoned Mukherjee Saturday. Erik
Solheim, Norway's former Special Envoy to Sri Lanka, met Indian
leaders two days earlier.
India, however, has refused to lend its voice to calls for
a ceasefire in Sri Lanka despite pressing Colombo last month
to declare a limited truce to help Tamil civilians to leave
the LTTE area. India seems to believe Colombo's version that
the LTTE will simply regroup if a truce takes effect.
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