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Terming the recent attack on Sri Lankan tourists as an “unfortunate aberration”, Colombo’s envoy Prasad Kariyawasam has blamed “fringe pro-LTTE groups” in the state for the violence, but underlined it will not affect robust ties or the visit of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to India later this month.
“It’s an unfortunate aberration, specially given very warm and robust relations between India and Sri Lanka,” Kariyawasam, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to India, said in an interview at his office when asked on the recent targeting of Sri Lankan pilgrims and tourists in Tamil Nadu.
Relations won’t be affected in any way, the envoy said, adding that President Mahinda Rajapkasa will visit India later this month.
“He has been invited by the Madhya Pradesh chief minister to join the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the University of Buddhist and Indic Studies in Sanchi. The invitation has been accepted.”
Rajapaksa is likely to come to India on a two-day visit September 21-22, said well-placed sources. He is also expected to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, a crucial meeting where mutual concerns will be addressed.
The envoy blamed pro-LTTE groups in Tamil Nadu for the violence unleashed against visiting tourists,which threaten to cast a shadow on bilateral ties.
“The current level of violent protests are led by fringe groups in Tamil Nadu who are pro-LTTE and are still wedded to LTTE’s ideology and who are upset at the defeat of the LTTE and its ideology,” said the envoy.
“The LTTE are still active in some Western countrries and they have funds at their proposal. They use these funds to lobby the Western countries and in Tamil Nadu,” he added.
“It’s unfortunate, but it seems to be happening in Tamil Nadu, specially in its approach towards Sri Lanka,” he replied when asked whether Sri Lanka was disappointed with fractious politics in the state and the stance of the Jayalalithaa government.
Two school football teams from Sri Lanka were sent back from Tamil Nadu allegedly at the behest of the state government. Some influential sections in Tamil Nadu have alleged mass slaughter of Tamils during the last phase of the war against the LTTE that ended in May, 2009.
The envoy stressed that Colombo has repeatedly invited all Tamil Nadu political leaders to visit Sri Lanka and engage in discussions to help map the “best way forward”.
“But they have not responded,” rued the envoy. He contended that propaganda and misinformation have supplanted facts in forming then perception of Sri Lanka in Tamil Nadu.
“Most perceptions in Tamil Nadu are based on misinformation. Some say around 40,000 Tamils died in the last phase of the war. According to official figures, 7,900 people died, including LTTE cadres.”
The ground realities are very different from what is projected on basis of misinformation, he asserted.
“You see the progress in the Northern Provinces since the elimination of the LTTE. Instead, many in Tamil Nadu seem to be speaking on the basis of propaganda by pro-LTTE groups living in Western countries without verifying the facts.”
The envoy pointed to blossoming people-to-people and trade relations between India and Sri Lanka and stressed that this will not be affected by the recent incident.
“The natural state of affairs between Sri Lankans of all communities and Tamil people are very warm and much more co-operative than what is reflected by some people.
“People-to-people contacts are substantial and won’t be affected,” he said. There are 80 flights between India and Sri Lanka every week. Nearly 175,000 Indian tourists visited Sri Lanka last year.
The envoy also pointed to an upswing in bilateral trade ties which are set to scale new heights. “India-Sri Lanka trade is growing and is currently $5bn. The two sides are hoping to double it to $10bn by 2015. India is the biggest investor in Sri Lanka,” he said.
Hundreds of Sri Lankans demonstrated in the capital yesterday, officials said, calling on India to ensure the safety of Sri Lankans travelling to the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu for pilgrimages, business and tourism.
The protest comes two days after some 180 Sri Lankans on a pilgrimage to a Catholic church in Tamil Nadu were forced to call off their trip after being threatened and their buses taking them to the airport were stoned by mobs.
Yesterday’s demonstration, primarily made up of members of the business community, handed over a petition to the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo, Ashok Kantha, calling on his government to provide better security for visitors.
“The attacks on the visiting Sri Lankans could have repercussions on the Indian community or those who have their origins in India living here”, P Sundaralingam who handed over a memorandum to the Indian High Commissioner, warned.
Tuesday’s attack came in the wake of a series of similar incidents. Political parties in Tamil Nadu have been demanding that the government stops training military personnel from Sri Lanka in the state.