India envoy to visit Sri Lanka for talks

COLOMBO: India's foreign secretary Nirupama Rao will hold talks with Sri Lanka's president on resolving the grievances of the island's Tamil minority this weekend, an official source said Saturday.

New Delhi has been pushing for political power-sharing between Sri Lanka's majority Sinhalese and the Tamils since Sri Lankan troops crushed Tamil Tiger rebels last May, ending a nearly four-decade-long civil war.

India, with its large Tamil population in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, shares close cultural and religious links with Sri Lanka.

Rao, due to arrive late Saturday in Colombo for a three-day trip, is the most senior Indian official to visit the island since President Mahinda Rajapakse won a second term in January's elections.

She will discuss with him "matters of mutual interest" and the re-settlement of thousands of civilians displaced during the final offensive against Tamil separatists which ended the conflict, the Sri Lankan official said.

"They will discuss a broad range of issues and the re-settlement and reconciliation will figure in their talks," the official, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

Rao was India's top envoy in Colombo before she became the most senior bureaucrat in India's External Affairs Ministry last year.

Her visit follows a statement earlier in the week by Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna that Sri Lanka had an opportunity for a "lasting political settlement" after ending its war with Tamil rebels last year.

India sent troops to supervise a 1987 Indo-Lanka peace pact and ended up fighting separatist Tamil rebels. After its troop withdrawal in March 1990, New Delhi adopted a hands-off policy towards its smaller neighbour.

But New Delhi lately has been nudging Colombo toward reconciliation between its Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority.

The foreign ministry here said Rao will also inaugurate an English Language Training Centre in central Sri Lanka set up with Indian help.

The cost of the centre has not been disclosed, but officials said it could accommodate 400 residential trainee teachers. The Sri Lankan education ministry will run the facility.