06/07/2010, 00.00
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President Rajapaksa’s controversial visit to India begins tomorrow

by Nirmala Carvalho
Politicians and activists announce protests, call on the Indian government to intervene decisively to help Sri Lanka overcome its post-war problems and rebuild war-ravaged regions. Some accuse New Delhi of supporting Colombo acritically.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is scheduled to arrive tomorrow in New Delhi for a three-day official visit. The two countries are old friends (pictured, a past state visit) but pro-rights groups and Indian politicians plan to stage protests against the visit because of the large number of people who were killed during Sri Lanka’s long civil war, demanding the Indian government intervene decisively to solve post-war problems and contribute to quick reconstruction in the war-torn regions of the island nation.

In parallel with the visit, a conference has been organised for the two countries to discuss ways to carry out reconstruction and enforce human rights protection in post-war Sri Lanka.

More than year after the end of the decades-long war, the meeting is set to look at outstanding issues like the number of civilian deaths caused by aerial bombing and artillery fire in the final phase of the war, which began in 2006. The number of dead is estimated between 7,700 and 22,000.

The lack of reconstruction plans for the most affected areas like Vanni and Jaffna is also on the agenda, so is the resettlement of 300,000 displaced people, including 63,000 still living in refugee camps, the fate of prisoners of war (an unknown number since the authorities will not release the actual figure, but which is estimated to be at least 10,833, including 1,878 women, as of 15 January) and that of youths (between 9,400 and 14,000) who have detained without charges for suspected rebel activities.

Conference participants will look at serious restrictions imposed on the press and the continued application of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which provides unhindered powers to the security forces. With a massive presence in former war zones, the latter act like an occupation army, even in Vanni and Jaffna, where they exercise prerogatives that normally belong to civilian authorities.

Pro-rights activists insist that India has a fundamental role to play in the reconstruction of Sri Lanka, but that it should not limit itself to investments and economic support. Instead, Sri Lanka’s northern neighbour should focus on human rights and the protection of displaced people and ethnic minorities, even if this means withholding economic aid and political support from the Rajapaksa’s government until it respects human rights, democracy and freedom as well as adopts a clear plan of reconstruction in favour of refugees and war-torn regions.

Some groups are very critical of the Indian government and accuse it of backing Colombo in international venues like the United Nations in spite of its open violations of human rights.

Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi wrote to Indian Prime Minister Manmohand Singh to remind him that many Tamils are still languishing in refugee camps and that their situation requires a resolution.

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