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Lanka invite puts donor Delhi in spot

New Delhi, Nov. 18: A Sri Lankan proposal seeking India’s participation in a forthcoming donors’ meet in Oslo — which among others will also have representatives from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) — has put Delhi in a spot. To wriggle out of the tight situation, India is likely to ask its ambassador in Norway to participate in the proposed meet, instead of sending an official delegation from Delhi.

Though India is keen to see peace return to Sri Lanka, it is not quite sure how to deal with the LTTE, which holds the key to normality being restored in the island nation. The LTTE is still a banned outfit in the country and officially the red corner notices, issued by India through Interpol for the arrest of Prabhakaran and other senior functionaries of the rebel group for former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in May 1991, have not yet been withdrawn.

At a time when Parliament is in session and the Vajpayee government is likely to face the heat of the Opposition on a number of crucial political and economic issues, South Block mandarins are not keen to open yet another front where its policy could invite severe criticism from the Congress MPs.

The donors' conference, to be held in the Norwegian capital on November 25, is vital for Sri Lanka’s future, especially for resettling displaced people affected by the ethnic strife going on in the island for decades.

Two Sri Lankan ministers, Milinda Doragoda and Rauf Hakim, are arriving in Delhi on Thursday to try and convince the Indian leadership to participate in the conference.

During their talks with foreign minister Yashwant Sinha and other senior officials in South Block, the two visiting ministers will try and highlight the progress made in the peace process and seek Delhi’s support in it.

India has been watching the Norway-initiated peace talks in Sri Lanka from the sidelines, without getting actively involved. But Colombo had kept Delhi apprised of the developments at regular intervals. India is also one of the donors as it had committed a credit line of $100 million and 300,000 tonnes of wheat to help in the rehabilitation programme in Sri Lanka.

But Delhi is reluctant to participate in the Oslo conference, the precursor to a bigger meet of the donor countries to be held in Japan in January next year.

The problem for India stems from the fact that the LTTE will be present. In fact, indications are Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and LTTE negotiator Anton Balasingham may also hold parleys on the sidelines of the conference.

To wriggle out of the situation, India is now thinking of asking Gopal Gandhi, its ambassador in Norway and till recently also Delhi’s high commissioner in Sri Lanka, to attend the donors' meet. At least 10 countries, including the US, Britain, France, Australia and Japan, are among the donors of Sri Lanka.

Colombo needs about $500 million to rebuild houses, roads and sewage system in its northeastern part that has been devastated by years of ethnic strife. Though the bigger convention of donors will be held in Japan next year, the Oslo meet has been called to release some funds that will keep the momentum of the peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE going.

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