India tells Sri Lanka to protect Tamils

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New Delhi, Oct 22 (UNI) India today told Sri Lanka to find a political solution to its ethnic conflict and fully protect the rights and welfare of the Tamil community threatened in the ongoing offensive against LTTE.

''... There is no military solution to the ethnic conflict. What is required in Sri Lanka is a peacefully negotiated political settlement within the framework of a united Sri Lanka respecting the legitimate rights of the minorities, including the Tamil community,'' External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in a suo motu statement on Sri Lanka in both Houses of Parliament.

In the Lok Sabha, the statement was tabled amid uproar by the RJD on the attack on ''outsiders'' in Mumbai, while in Rajya Sabha, the Opposition sought some clarifications from Mr Mukherjee, but he promised to the Chair that he would come to the House the next day to reply to them, as he had to leave the House immediately because of some important business that had come up.

His statement was made in the Rajya Sabha interrupting the discussion on the supplementary demands.

Mr Mukherjee said India was concerned about the plight of the civilians caught in the hostilities and the growing number of internally displaced persons, and had conveyed to the Sri Lankan Government to safeguard their safety and ensure that food and essential commodities reach them unhindered.

''We have been assured that the safety and well-being of the Tamil community there would be taken care of.

''In this connection, Member of Parliament and Senior Adviser to the Sri Lankan President, Basil Rajapaksa, is due to visit India shortly,'' he said.

''We encourage the government of Sri Lanka to continue to nurture the democratic process in the Eastern Province as well,'' he said.

The Minister said India had also taken up with Sri Lanka the need to ensure the safety of its fishermen, and the two governments had agreed to work towards concluding practical arrangements to prevent such incidents.

''While it is important for our fishermen to respect the International Maritime Boundary Line, we have impressed on the Sri Lankan Navy to desist from firing on Indian fishermen,'' said Mr Mukherjee.

UNI NAZ RL AS1807

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