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Oct 19, 2008 at 09:42pm IST

Pranab to visit Sri Lanka for talks on Tamils

New Delhi: A day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on the plight of Tamil civilians caught in the military conflict in the island nation, the Indian government on Sunday decided to send External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukerjee to Colombo to discuss the issue.

"The visit of the external affairs minister is under consideration. Dates are being finalised," official sources said.

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollgama had invited Mukherjee "to undertake a visit to Sri Lanka at an early date", said a statement issued in Colombo after the telephonic conversation between Manmohan Singh and Rajapaksa.

THE NEGOTIATOR: Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollgama had invited Mukherjee to Sri Lanka at an early date.

On his part, Manmohan Singh "expressed his deep concern on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the north of Sri Lanka, especially on the plight of the civilians caught in the hostilities", a statement from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) in New Delhi said.

During the conversation, initiated at Rajapaksa's instance, Manmohan Singh "emphasised that the safety and the security of Tamil civilians must be safeguarded at all costs" during the military operations against Tamil Tiger rebels, the statement said.

The prime minister also asked Colombo to ensure "uninterrupted relief supplies" for the internally displaced persons to address the humanitarian consequences of the military action, the PMO statement added.

It said Manmohan Singh reiterated yet again that there was "no military solution" to the conflict and urged the Sri Lankan leader "to start a political process for a peacefully negotiated political settlement within the framework of a united Sri Lanka".

However, the Sri Lankan foreign ministry statement made no reference to these two key issues.

With 14 MPs of DMK, a key ally of his government and the ruling party of Tamil Nadu, handing over post-dated resignations over the situation in Sri Lanka, Manmohan Singh stressed that "the rights and the welfare of the Tamil community of Sri Lanka should not get enmeshed in the ongoing hostilities against the LTTE".

This was the second message from the prime minister and the fourth from New Delhi to Colombo in the last four days over the situation in Sri Lanka that has stirred a political storm in India with MPs from Tamil Nadu threatening to resign if the violence against civilians was not stopped in Lanka.

Manmohan Singh's conversation with the Sri Lankan president comes a day after Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon summoned Sri Lankan High Commissioner C.R. Jayasinghe and asked Colombo to "take steps" to stop the violence that has severely affected Tamil civilians in the island nation.

External Affairs Minister Mukherjee Thursday had sent a stern message to Colombo asking it to shun "military means" and pursue a political settlement that respects the human rights of minorities in the island nation.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan president is likely to send a senior envoy to New Delhi early next week to discuss issues raised by the Manmohan Singh government.

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