India votes against Sri Lanka, then mollifies Colombo

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    New Delhi/Geneva: India Thursday voted for a US-backed resolution urging Sri Lanka to probe rights abuses in the war on the Tamil Tigers, but quickly emphasized that Colombo’s sovereignty must be respected.

    After joining 23 other countries to vote against Colombo at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, India underlined its “strong ties” with Sri Lanka.

    Sri Lanka expressed outrage after the resolution won majority support despite its war-footing diplomatic campaign but emphasized that its “friendly ties” with India and the US would not change.

    The UNHRC adopted the resolution with 24 votes in favour, 15 against and eight abstentions.

    The motion called on Colombo to address abuses of humanitarian law during the climactic phase of the war that crushed the Tamil Tigers in May 2009, ending 26 years of civil war.

    China and Russia rallied behind Sri Lanka in Geneva.

    Ahead of the voting, Sri Lanka pressed India to review its stand after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, under pressure from the DMK, announced that his government was inclined to vote for the resolution.

    “We have such a strong relationship that we can’t regress from it. There will be no rollback of the relationship,” an informed source said.

    Soon after the voting, the Indian foreign ministry put out a detailed note which placed its contentious decision in perspective.

    The ministry stressed that “resolutions of this nature should fully respect the sovereign rights of states and contribute to Sri Lanka’s own efforts in this regard”.

    It pointed out that with thousands of years of cordial relations and deep rooted spiritual and cultural ties, India can’t cannot remain untouched by developments in the neighbouring country.

    “We will continue to remain engaged with Sri Lanka to take forward the process of reconciliation to secure for all its citizens a future marked by equality, dignity, justice and self-respect,” the ministry said in New Delhi.

    Reminding Colombo to implement the recommendations of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report, India said “there is a window of opportunity to forge a consensual way forward towards reconciliation through a political settlement respecting all ethnic and religious groups inhabiting the nation”.

    India stressed that the LLRC report recognises that “a political solution is imperative and that the government of Sri Lanka should provide the leadership to this political process”.

    “We are confident that implementation of the report will foster genuine reconciliation,” the ministry said.

    “We voted for the resolution because we want Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of the LLRC in a credible and time-bound manner,” said the source.

    India urged Sri Lanka to take forward the process of broader dialogue and show concrete movement towards a meaningful devolution of powers to the provinces.

    Sri Lanka, it said, should go for the implementation of the 13th amendment of the constitution and beyond.

    “We would urge that Sri Lanka takes forward measures for accountability and to promote human rights that it has committed to,” added the ministry.

    “It is these steps … which would bring about genuine reconciliation between all communities of Sri Lanka, including the Tamil community,” said the ministry.

    Sri Lanka was upset by India’s vote but sought to play it down.

    In Colombo, Acting Media Minister Laksman Yapa Abeywardena said India’s internal political situation had pushed New Delhi to vote in favour of the US-sponsored resolution, Xinhua reported.

    “Sri Lanka’s ties with India will not be affected over the decision it has taken,” Abeywardena said.

    “India’s ruling party has lost some of the big states in elections and all the parties in Tamil Nadu have gathered together to pressure the central government to support the resolution,” Abeywardena added.