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Sri Lanka has to embrace devolution, India insists

Posted on Feb 27, 07:46PM | IANS

New Delhi, Feb 27 : India made it clear Wednesday that Sri Lanka will have to devolve more powers to its provinces so as to empower the Tamil minority.

Speaking at the end of a charged debate on "war crimes" in Sri Lanka, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, however, declined to reveal how India will vote next month at the UN meet on human rights in Geneva.

While reiterating that India wanted a united Sri Lanka, Khurshid told the Rajya Sabha that it was vital that Tamils should be treated "as honourable citizens" and enjoy justice and devolved powers.

The minister was repeatedly interrupted by members from Tamil Nadu who charged Sri Lanka with committing "war crimes" in the final stages of the conflict that crushed the Tamil Tigers in 2009.

But Khurshid hastened to add that he could not agree with AIADMK's V. Maitreyan who described Sri Lanka as "an enemy country" of the Tamils. The minister's comment only drew more vocal protests.

On Colombo's much promised devolution of powers to its provinces and by extension to the Tamils, Khurshid stood firm.

Sri Lanka cannot evade its responsibility of devolving, under the India-sponsored 13th amendment of its constitution, powers to its provinces, including the northeast, the former war zone.

"In all our official interactions, we have actually been talking about not the 13th amendment but 13th amendment plus," he said, using an official jargon to mean India expects Sri Lanka to do more than what it has pledged vis-a-vis devolution of powers.

He pointed out that India was also in touch with Tamil parties in Sri Lanka.

When Tamil MPs quoted Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa as saying that the 13th amendment was history, Khurshid said there were many views and "we should not assume this as the final" official view.

"Within the range of diplomacy, we have been told time and again that the 13th amendment (will be implemented)."

Carefully steering away from any condemnation of Sri Lanka, he said the world had seen "very sad, very moving, very tragic" scenes -- an obvious reference to the civilian suffering that marked the war there.

"That is the reason we have engaged with Sri Lanka," he said, adding that it was "very important" that Colombo displayed accountability.

But he underlined that such accountability should come from within, rather than from outside. "When accountability comes from within, there is a greater chance of sustainability."

The minister also declined to say if India will vote for the US-sponsored resolution at the UNHCR meet in Geneva next month pulling up Sri Lanka for human rights abuses and for lack of political reconciliation.

He also told Tamil MPs that the situation in Sri Lanka was of concern to everyone in India. "Why are you isolating yourself?"

"Our initiative is to find a solution... go beyond pain and anger. We want a sustainable settlement to the issues in Sri Lanka.

"There is no question of our having a blinkered vision of the ground situation," he said, and added that Sri Lanka had been told to hold a free and fair election in the island's Tamil-majority north.

"We want Sri Lanka should become prosperous again but that success story should have the total participation of Tamil citizens with whom we stand in solidarity."