The Web Sri Lanka In Focus

Monday, 20 October 2008

Indian alarm as major Sri Lankan battle looms

INDIA is preparing to send its foreign minister to Sri Lanka to deliver a stern warning to the Colombo Government amid reports that one of the most crucial battles in the 25-year war against the Tamil Tigers is imminent.

No date has been set for the visit by Pranab Mukherjee as concerns mount among India's Tamil population that the Sri Lankan army has over-run the Tigers' last major defences south of their headquarters.

India is seeking to halt the Sri Lankan army as it closes in on the rebel stronghold amid fears a major humanitarian tragedy is in the making.

In a series of tense telephone calls with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has in effect warned the Sri Lankan army to hold back and avoid creating a new wave of refugees from the fighting.

Mr Singh's warning has been spurred by the growing outcry against the Sri Lankan offensive among the 60 million Tamils in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, who sympathise with their kinfolk in Sri Lanka. However, analysts believe Mr Singh is unlikely to succeed, despite his clout in the region.

Sri Lanka's powerful Defence Minister, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who is the President's brother, said yesterday the Tamil Tigers were on the verge of defeat and suffering huge casualties, and that they were trying to "rope in" India in a last-gasp attempt to get the offensive halted.

"It is very clear the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) is at a decisive stage. And no-one can stop them getting defeated. So they are trying their maximum to get Tamil Nadu to pressure the Indian Government to pressure the Sri Lankan Government," Mr Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said.

Nearly 40 MPs from India's ruling national coalition Government, including six ministers, have handed in resignations to protest at the Sri Lankan army's offensive against the rebels, and have demanded action by the New Delhi Government to force Colombo to halt the action.

Reports yesterday suggested that Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, who comes from south India, could quit.

New Delhi is making it clear it is not planning any sort of military intervention in Sri Lanka similar to that which preceded former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's assassination by the LTTE. However, it is determined that the Sri Lankan Government understands there can be no military solution to the conflict in the island nation.

New Delhi fears that if Colombo is allowed to achieve the sort of military victory that now looks likely, it will spell the end of political reforms designed to accommodate the ambitions of the Tamil community.

The reports yesterday claimed the Sri Lankan army's 57th division had pierced the Tamil Tiger defences south of the rebel headquarters at Kilinochchi, and said 19 of their fortified bunkers had been overrun.