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India urges Sri Lanka to resume autonomy talks

By Bharatha Mallawarachi

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Oct. 7 2013 12:23 p.m. MDT

Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris, left, shakes hands with his Indian counterpart Salman Khurshid during their meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, Oct. 7, 2013. Khurshid, on a two-day visit Monday reiterated India’s call for an early political settlement and reconciliation in Sri Lanka through devolving power with the ethnic minority Tamils, more than four years after a three decades civil war. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Eranga Jayawardena, Associated Press

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — India urged Sri Lanka's government on Monday to resume negotiations with an ethnic Tamil party on increased local autonomy for Tamils.

Visiting Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said India looked forward to an early resumption of the dialogue "to address this issue in a timely manner."

Khurshid made the comments after meeting Monday with his Sri Lankan counterpart, Gamini Peiris. The Tamil National Alliance party, which recently swept a provincial election, is seeking wider regional autonomy in areas ravaged by Sri Lanka's civil war, which ended in 2009 with the Sinhalese-dominated government's defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels.

The rebels had sought an independent nation for Tamils, claiming widespread discrimination by the government.

India has a major interest in the issue because southern India is home to 60 million Tamils, but New Delhi has been reluctant to become directly involved in Sri Lankan politics since a disastrous military intervention during the civil war left more than 1,000 Indian troops dead.

Khurshid said he hopes the Sri Lankan leadership that ended the war and held the recent election will now "work for genuine reconciliation."

The talks stalled in 2011 when the government said it wanted issues of greater local autonomy to be discussed by a parliamentary committee, instead of in talks with the Tamil alliance. However, the party now has greater clout after winning 30 out of 38 seats in the provincial election.

The Indian military intervention followed an agreement between India and Sri Lanka that led to an amendment of Sri Lanka's constitution and established provincial councils in an effort to end Tamil militancy.

The Sri Lankan government also promised to allow a greater degree of autonomy in Tamil-majority regions in the north when the three-decade civil war ended.

However, the government recently backtracked, saying it will take back the land and police powers given to the provincial councils. Indian leaders have expressed dismay at the move.

Khurshid also said he negotiated the release of Indian fishermen who had been detained by Sri Lanka for alleged poaching. He said livelihood issues should be treated humanely.

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