Rajapaksa urges India to assume leadership role

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New Delhi, Oct 13 (UNI) Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa today urged India to assume a leadership role in South Asia and the SAARC region and allay the fears of its neighbours that it is not a threat to them but an opportunity.

In his keynote speech on ''India in a regional context: a neighbour's view'' at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit here, he also reiterated his call for a common currency for the region to stabilise regional economy.

''The challenge for Indian diplomacy in this era of growing Indian stature and prosperity is to demonstrate that India is not a threat but an opportunity for her neighbours and the region,'' he said.

He said India had a unique responsibility to ensure that the entire region maintained peace without any outbreak of regional wars.

''If there is a key lesson to be drawn from the experience of the past 60 years, it is that the home grown approach that is seen in the unique model of governance in India, has served the country well in facing up to many of the challenges before it at the time of Independence and later,'' he added.

It was with this 'home-grown' solution that Sri Lanka sought to face up to its own issues of governance, including the conflict affecting the north of the country.

''...A conflict which has been exploited by separatist forces who, through the use of unmitigated terror, pose a threat to India too.

The Sri Lankan government is facing up to this terrorist challenge with increasing success today,'' he added.

President Rajapaksa said while his Government remained determined to fight terrorism, it was equally committed to seek a negotiated and sustainable solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka.

If the LTTE was willing to enter a process of ''genuine negotiations'' for a peaceful and democratic solution, the government and the people would reciprocate.

''In this, it would not be out of place to look forward to understanding and assistance from our regional neighbours and friends, especially those with whom we share the strongest bonds throughout history. We will see in such understanding and assistance the true signs of emerging greatness,'' he said.

Asked if Sri Lanka needed more assistance from India in tackling terrorism, Mr Rajapaksa said ''we have their moral support. That is more than enough.'' Commenting on reports alleging links between LTTE and Indian insurgent groups, the Sri Lankan President said he did not have any such information.

However, any such information was taken up with the Indian government.

He asserted that ''learned maturity'' would see India take its neighbours alongwith towards progress.

The neighbours, in turn, should also know how to handle ''this mature lady in our midst.'' ''The time for playful relationships, if any, are over. India's own maturity will call for similar responses from everyone who deals with her; especially from her neighbours who will always have the most to do with her,'' the Sri Lankan President said.


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