SRILANKA-INDIA:India to Sri Lanka: Don't miss reconciliation chance
By Ranga Sirilal
COLOMBO (Reuters) - India's foreign minister on Tuesday urged Sri Lanka to forge ahead with political reconciliation steps recommended by a presidential inquiry into the end of its civil war, and signed economic cooperation agreements worth $443 million.
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, on a three-day visit to India's island neighbour, said the presidentially-appointed Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission had several points which needed follow-up to spur recovery from the 25-year ethnic civil war that ended in 2009.
"These recommendations, when implemented, would mark a major step forward in the process of genuine national reconciliation, to which the Sri Lankan government is committed. Sri Lanka must seize this opportunity," Krishna said.
India's shadow has loomed large in Sri Lanka's civil war between the minority Tamil people and governments led by the Sinhalese majority.
India brokered a 1987 power-sharing deal between the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam that was never implemented. Although it has since the war's end called for parts of it be enacted, it has also backed President Mahinda Rajapaksa's position that Sri Lanka must solve its own problems.
The LLRC report absolved the military of targeting and killing civilians in the war's final months. It was criticised by Western governments that have urged Rajapaksa to hold people accountable or face an external war crimes probe.
With archrival China expanding its financial and political influence in Sri Lanka with loans of $3.43 billion since 2009, Delhi is increasingly moving to shore up its traditional leverage over the island off its southern tip.
Krishna signed deals in housing in the former war zone, railways and telecommunications. He also pushed for signature of a comprehensive economic partnership agreement, long planned but opposed by Sri Lankan businessmen who fear competition from India's giant economy.
Krishna told a news conference that building on "positive momentum" in economic and trade ties required "a more comprehensive framework of economic cooperation".
He also met the Tamil National Alliance, a former LTTE political proxy, that last weekend dismissed the LLRC report as falling short of international standards. It again called for an international probe, saying accountability for civilian deaths and disappearances remained an urgent need.
India armed and trained Tamil militants in the 1970s and 1980s, including the Tamil Tigers. But as the war ended, it let Rajapaksa's government finish off the Tigers despite pressure at home in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
The Tamil Tigers were the most ruthless and efficient of several militant groups that India backed. Its drive to make the north and east of Sri Lanka a Tamil-only nation erupted in civil war in 1983.
(Editing by Bryson Hull and Ron Popeski)