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Govt cautious on Sri Lanka as Opposition, allies demand stern action; BJP, DMK stage walkout

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Mar 07, 2013 at 05:43pm IST

New Delhi: The government fielded attacks from both the Opposition and its allies in Parliament on Thursday as the Lok Sabha debated India's role in finding a solution to the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka, and said it will take the "best possible" decision on UN resolution on the island country. Lok Sabha members demanded that government should take a more stern action against the atrocities committed against the Tamils.

However, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said India cannot play "big brother" in Sri Lankan politics, and that there should be an independent and acceptable inquiry into human rights violations in the neighbouring country. "Diplomacy will do what war cannot do in Sri Lanka. Legitimate rights of Tamils in Sri Lanka must be implemented in totality. Feelings of the House are the feelings that we share. We cannot be angry as this is a huge humanitarian problem to which we have to find a solution and help our neighbouring friends to find a solution," Khurshid said.

Despite this, members of BJP, JD(U), DMK and AIADMK staged a walkout, unhappy over Khurshid's statement. During the debate, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Yashwant Sinha said India's role in the LTTE issue cannot be ignored. "We first encouraged the LTTE when they emerged. Then we sent our Army after them to destroy them, they could not be destroyed. 2900 Indian soldiers died - no monument exists for them," Sinha said.

"India should also caution other neighbours against interfering in the Sri Lankan affairs or Indo-Sri Lankan relations. Let India not merely vote ... in the UNHRC but take the lead in drafting the resolution and carry it through the UNHRC," Sinha, a former External Affairs Minister, added.

"Foreign policy is not conducted out of fear but with confidence and elan," he said, while noting that India has a lot of clout but seems to have lost momentum. He wanted to know what happened to India's "stature" and hoped that the government would wake up.

Sinha said an impartial inquiry should be held into the "genocide" carried out against Sri Lankan Tamils and there should be a clear commitment from that government that guilty shall be punished. Initiating the discussion, DMK leader TR Baalu, whose party is a key constituent of the ruling UPA, wanted the government to ensure passage of the UN resolution to fix accountability for the war crimes.

Demanding that the guilty of the Sri Lankan war crimes be taken to the International Court of Justice to "give some solace to the victims", he said India should not be "lukewarm" but have a clear-cut approach on the issue at the UN.

Baalu asked the government to clarify its stand on the "mass-scale atrocities" perpetrated against the ethnic minorities. "25 years have passed since the Rajiv Gandhi-Jayawardene accord was signed, but it has not been implemented so far," he said, claiming that the "genocide" of Tamils in the war and atrocities against them have not yet stopped.

Besides mass killings and rapes, Tamil language and culture is being targeted as shown in the change of names of a large number of villages in the Tamil-dominated areas of Sri Lanka, Baalu said, initiating a discussion which does not entail voting. He wanted Sri Lankan war criminals to be punished in the same way as those convicted for similar crimes in Bosnia, Syria and other places by the International Court of Justice.

Another UPA ally, Mulayam Singh Yadav (SP) asked the government to clarify its foreign policy on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. "Have you protested the atrocities being committed against the Tamils," he asked. He said the Sri Lankan crisis was a result of the failure of the country's establishment of not following the principles of Jawaharlal Nehru that India would speak up against human rights violations in the world.

Yadav said there was a confusion over India's foreign policy and wanted a clarification. He urged UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi to ask the Prime Minister and the External Affairs Minister to explain the steps taken by the government to help Sri Lankan Tamils.

"Sonia ji, why are you silent. You have the control.... please ask the Prime Minister and the External Affairs Minister sitting behind you about the steps taken in this regard," he said. Sougata Roy of Trinamool Congress, whose party withdrew from the government in 2012 over foreign direct investment issue, asked DMK to pull out from UPA if it really had serious differences with the Congress on the issue.

"We had differences with the Government on the FDI and diesel price hike. So, we left the Government. Why are sticking with them," he remarked. At the outset, Speaker Meira Kumar said members should speak in such a way which would not affect India's relations with its neighbours.

M Thambidurai of AIADMK used the opportunity to attack arch rival DMK saying how could the party be a part of the government which is training Sri Lankan defence personnel, who are in turn killing innocent Tamils in the island nation. This led to a war of words between members of the two parties.

Thambidurai said he had resigned from the NDA government as a minister over Cauvery water sharing dispute issue. He said while the Rajiv Gandhi-Jayawardene accord was signed in 1987, India could not ensure its implementation even after so many years. He said implementation of the 13th Amendment, which gives more powers to provincial councils, was part of it.

DMK MPs protested when Saugata Roy narrated the history of Sri Lankan problem and alleged that LTTE was also responsible for plight of Tamils living in the island nation. Roy said "LTTE was thoroughly a terrorist organisation".

DMK MPs including Minister of State for Finance SS Palanimanickam and T R Baalu alleged that Roy was diverting from the real issue. Roy, however, said that Sri Lankan Army committed genocide against ethnic Tamils and those who are responsible for it should be put on trial.

Jagadish Sharma of JD(U) said the fundamental needs of the Sri Lankan Tamils should be fulfilled and an international probe should be launched to punish those Sri Lankan Army personnel who brutally massacred the ethnic Tamils. CPI-M leader PR Natarajan also said persons responsible for war crimes against Sri Lankan Tamils should be brought to justice and India should involve Sri Lanka and try to find a peaceful solution to the problem.

CPI's P Lingam asked if Sri Lanka is a friendly country, why were they killing fishermen from Tamil Nadu in the sea. B Mehtab of BJD termed as "terrible" the crime committed by Sri Lankan Army against slain LTTE Chief V Prabhakaran's son Balachandran and "India should not be a mute spectator".

JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav shared the concerns with the members who emotionally narrated the genocide in Sri Lanka. DMK leader Dayanidhi Maran said eight crore Tamils are looking at the Centre on what decision it is going to take. He said India is the biggest force in the region and the country should act decisively on the issue.

RJD chief Lalu Prasad urged the Centre to take note of human rights violation in Sri Lanka and make sure that such incidents do not happen in future. He also said it was not a simple Tamils issue, but an issue pertaining to India.

(With Additional Inputs From PTI)

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