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India may tilt against Sri Lanka at Geneva

New Delhi, March 15, 2013 (IANS)
A Sri Lankan demonstrator holds a portrait of a missing relative during a protest outside the United nations office in Colombo on March 13, 2013. A Roman Catholic priest led families of victims to hand over a petition to the UN office as Sri Lanka faced renewed censure at the on-going UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in Geneva. Priest Sebamalai Emmanual said hundreds of minority Tamils were stopped from leaving the northern town of Vavuniya a week ago by police and security forces who blocked a planned peaceful demonstration in the capital. AFP PHOTO

Despite Sri Lanka's hopes, India is likely to back the US-sponsored resolution at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva against Colombo - if there is a vote.

But this decision will not be influenced by the anger in Tamil Nadu against the killing of large numbers of Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan military in the war against the Tamil Tigers. New Delhi is convinced that while rehabilitation of the war displaced is taking place in the island's northeast in some measure, Sri Lanka does not seem to be sincere vis--vis national reconciliation.

In any case, the situation at the ongoing UN meet in Geneva is different from last year when also the US piloted a resolution pulling up Sri Lanka for rights abuses and more.

In a move that shook Sri Lanka, India broke ranks with the rest of South Asia and voted for the US resolution that got passed despite hectic lobbying by Colombo.

The 47-member UNHRC membership is rotational. Russia, Cuba and China, which were among Colombo's backers last year, are no more in the Council.

Last year, after Sri Lanka's refusal to deal with Washington, India engaged with US diplomats and toned down the resolution, deleting references to its intrusive aspects.

Like many developing countries, India remains sensitive to Western moves that could be construed as interference in a country's sovereign affairs. This time, Pakistan and some like-minded countries are said to be talking to US diplomats, apparently on behalf of Sri Lanka.

Despite strident demands from political players in Tamil Nadu, the Congress-led central government has not revealed how it will vote this year. One reason is that the US resolution is subject to amendments, and India will wait to see its final shape.

Second, there is a possibility that the resolution may be adopted by consensus, in which case it will be futile for India to reveal its cards - at this point.

Colombo seems to have realized that the dice is more heavily loaded against it at Geneva now compared to 2012.

The dominant view in New Delhi is that the Sri Lankan leadership has badly bungled after crushing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The feeling is that President Mahinda Rajapaksa, knowing that many Tamil civilians did die in the final stages of war, could have offered a public regret and announced adequate financial compensation.

This would have reduced the ill feeling among many Tamils, more so because many were caught in the horrendous conflict between Colombo and the LTTE against their wishes.

Instead, Sri Lanka took a bizarre stand - and has stuck to it - that no civilian was killed in the military blitzkrieg against the LTTE and that the Tigers were to blame for all civilian deaths. Colombo has also dragged its feet on the issue of national reconciliation, refusing to engage in an earnest dialogue with the Tamil National Alliance, the biggest Tamil political grouping in parliament.

This has prevented Sri Lanka from taking bold steps to bring about a national reconciliation that would help heal the wounds of a conflict that left tens of thousands dead over a quarter century.

Sri Lanka has also gone back on the promises it made to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on political steps it would take once the LTTE became history.
For these reasons, if there is a vote in Geneva, India may do a repeat of last year, say those in the know here.


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