Lankan PM for India’s help in peace talks

Associated Press

Colombo, April 6:

Sri Lanka’s hardline president installed a new prime minister today who immediately called on neighboring India to help revive its frozen peace process amid post-election threats of a new civil war by the Tamil Tiger rebels. India suffered massive troop losses when it last intervened in its neighbor’s internal conflict in the late 1980s and was forced to withdraw all its peacekeepers. New Delhi said it would not respond until it received a formal proposal from new Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse.

Rajapakse, 58, previously the opposition leader, is regarded as a political moderate even though he heads an alliance that supports President Chandrika Kumaratunga - who openly doesn’t trust the rebels after they tried to assassinate her in 1999. It’s unclear how the two will work together. He secured the premiership only after he scuttled a plan by the president to install a rival last night. Rajapakse identified peace with the Tamils as his main priority.

He said Kumaratunga, who bitterly accused the former government of making too many concessions to the Tigers, would supervise the peace process and that New Delhi should take a leading role as well. "We want India involved as soon as possible," Rajapakse told reporters. "I have always wanted India to play a role in Sri Lanka." It was unclear whether he meant New Delhi should be diplomatically engaged or whether a troop deployment was possible. Rajapakse’s overtures to India come after the rebels said they hoped a political solution could be found to their demands for sweeping autonomy. If not, "the Tamil people will fight to establish the Tamil sovereignty in their homeland," the pro-rebel TamilNet Web site said Monday.

"My first priority will be obtain the support of other parties to form a government, Rajapakse said. "We are confident of obtaining the support of other parties to form a government."

Outgoing PM Ranil Wickremesinghe had initiated the most recent attempts to make peace with the rebels, who fought a long, bloody war for a separate state for Sri Lanka’s minority ethnic Tamils. They claim they are discriminated against by Sinhalese.