'Sri Lanka's unity should be kept in mind'

NEW DELHI, MAY 7. When the Opposition leaders meet the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, here tomorrow to discuss the developments in Sri Lanka, they are likely emphasise that the unity of a multi- ethnic Sri Lanka and India's own national interests must determine any Indian initiative. They are also likely to ask the Government to spell out more specifically the nature of help that Sri Lanka has sought, and an indication of how it proposes to respond.

The dominant view in political circles was that the nature of Indian help should be such as to facilitate a ``democratic'' solution of the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka, and nothing should be done to encourage what the former Prime Minister, Mr. I.K.Gujral, called forces of ``extremism and disruption'' without directly mentioning the LTTE.

In a statement here today, he said India should extend ``all cooperation'' to the Sri Lankan people to resist such forces. ``This will lend added credibility and seriousness to our own fight against such forces at the regional and global levels,'' he pointed out.

Mr. Gujral stressed the point that India, ``keeping its own interests in mind'', was committed to a sovereign, united and multi-ethnic Sri Lanka where all minorities, especially Tamils, could live with dignity and without fear. He appreciated the Government's statement ruling out a ``repeat of the IPKF experience''. This, he said, was in line with the policy of the V. P. Singh's Government in which he was the External Affairs Minister.

Underlining India's own security concerns because of Pakistan- backed militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, he said it was important to ensure that the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka did not ``come under duress''. He also wanted further consolidation of ``mutually cooperative'' ties with Sri Lanka particularly the initiatives taken by his erstwhile United Front Government.

The mood in the Congress(I) was to give the Prime Minister a patient hearing and then react. The party has already indicated that it would not like to tie down the Government's hands though it would insist that the Opposition be taken into confidence before embarking on any initiative. The CPI(M) cautioned against any move that might have a bearing on the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.