LANKA CEASEFIRE SOLUTION AWAITS WILLING BROKER
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- Published 7.05.00
May 7 : Opinion grew across the globe that a ceasefire in Jaffna is the best possible solution to the muddle in Sri Lanka, but no country has made an unequivocal offer to play the negotiator and bell the Tamil Tigers. India, the US, Britain and Norway - which was preparing the ground for mediation - feel that cessation of hostilities now will allow both Sri Lanka and the LTTE some leeway to manoeuvre themselves towards talks. Foreign minister Jaswant Singh hinted during a television interview tonight that Delhi was not averse to playing a role, "if all sides asked for it". " I do not think India has ever been a dishonest broker," he added. But asked whether India would mediate, Singh evaded a direct reply, saying: "Playing the ro-le of a negotiator can come only when the Sri Lankan government requires, determines and decides there is such a role to be played". Speculation was rife in the Lanka media that India was ready to be a "third-party" broker and poised to air-drop supplies. The expectations were fired by reports that two cargo planes were standing by at a base in Kerala. Amid the swirling rumours, Indian Air Force chief A.Y. Tipnis left for Lanka on a five-day visit. Tipnis is accompanied by his wife. Defence officials were at pains to delink the visit from the Jaffna crisis and pointed out that it was finalised much earlier. But AFP quoted a source as saying Tipnis would visit the strategic Lankan air base of Anuradhapura. Singh's caution-coated response reflects the dilemma confronting India and others on taking the lead in talking with the LTTE leadership. Norway, which has considerable influence over an important segment within the LTTE, could have initiated a back-channel dialogue. But, officially at least, India does not want Norway to intervene. Sri Lanka, too, has reservations. India's problem lies in a paradox: it can neither support third-party mediation nor stay a silent spectator for too long. It is opposed to external mediation, gi-ven its touchiness about Kashmir. But India has been at the forefront of a global campaign against terrorism since the Kargil and Kandahar crises. Delhi is also signatory to a number of international treaties on terrorism and its own Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism is awaiting approval at the UN. It is worried that inaction on Sri Lanka could be misconstrued as support to one terrorist group while condemning others in its own territory. The government does not want to reveal its cards - unless something dramatic happens on the battlefront tonight - when it exchanges notes with the Opposition tomorrow. It will stick to its public posture of being ready to send humanitarian aid, if sought. Rally crackdown The DMK government today banned a pro-LTTE rally in Chidambaram, a town in north Tamil Nadu, and took Pazha Nedumaran, a vocal supporter of the Tiger lobby, into custody. The rally was aimed at demanding the Centre's support for the Tamil militants. The state refused permission for the rally, but Nedumaran and his 200 supporters were arrested when they sought to defy the ban. A dozen people were also held in Chennai for "printing and pasting" pro-LTTE posters. Observers believe that the Tiger lobby was testing the waters after the Elephant Pass capture on possible Indian military intervention.