10/21/2008, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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In Colombo, politicians and population accuse India of "interference" in civil war

by Melani Manel Perera
The pressure from Indian prime minister Singh for a peaceful solution between the government and the Tamil Tigers is prompting protests by politicians and from public opinion, in opposition to outside interference. Meanwhile, the fighting is becoming more violent, as the army advances into rebel territory.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Friction between Sri Lanka and India, over the conflict between the state and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). New Delhi says it is "concerned" over the serious situation in the northern part of the country, above all because of the sufferings of the civil population, most of whom are of Tamil ethnicity. But the government, political parties, and many citizens, especially Sinhalese Buddhists, are bristling over India's interference in the country's domestic problems.

The press office of Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh has made public a telephone call on October 18 between Singh and Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa, in which the Indian prime minister called upon his counterpart to consider negotiations to seek an agreement, not believing that any "military solution" to the conflict was possible. He emphasized that "he safety and the security of these civilians must be safeguarded at all costs."

In reaction, Sinhalese, Muslim, and Tamil politicians have said that they are "opposed" to Indian interference in the country's domestic affairs, appearing on various television programs to reiterate that any decision on security belongs solely to the government of Colombo. Lakshman Seneviratne, deputy secretary of the United National Party, says that India is being pressured by Tamil Nadu, and that it should be asked "not to intervene." Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka of Jathika Hela Urumaya is of a similar opinion, maintaining that the compassion for civilians expressed by New Delhi has been "misunderstood." Muslim minister Rishath Bathiyuddin also says that foreign nations must not interfere in the country's domestic questions. Wimal Weerawansa, president of Jathika Nidahas Peramuna, Is taking a tough stance, saying that "crocodile tears are shed, not for the love of the Tamil people."

But public opinion has also reacted negatively to the "encroachment of the Indian government," as dozens of people have commented in recent days to AsiaNews, in a genuine mini-survey in the capital of Colombo.

Defense minister Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (the president's brother) comments that the Tamil Tigers, in great difficulty, are making desperate efforts to obtain the intervention of Indian political leaders for the purpose of stopping the army's offensive. "It is very clear that the LTTE is at a decisive stage. And no one can stop them getting defeated. So, they are trying their maximum to get Tamil Nadu leaders to pressure the Indian government to pressure the Sri Lankan government."

Meanwhile, the Army's advances coming at a high price. Yesterday, the defense minister said that the army is now near Kilinochchi, the rebels' northern capital, but that in the latest violent conflict, 33 soldiers were killed and 48 wounded, with three missing. The Tamil Tigers have set up a network of bunkers and other defensive positions in the area and are fighting tenaciously, although the army is supported by aerial bombardment and artillery.

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