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PM tells Rajapaksa to ensure welfare of Tamils
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Special: The War in Lanka

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November 13, 2008 18:33 IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] on Thursday told Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to ensure safety and welfare of ethnic Tamils as he met the Sri Lankan leader for the first time since the recent uproar over their condition in the island nation.

Rajapaksa, while apprising Singh about the steps being taken to protect the interests of Tamils, made it clear that the military offensive against the LTTE [Images] will not stop as his government was determined to "eliminate" terrorism before initiating the political process of settlement.

During their meeting on the sidelines of the BIMSTEC Summit in New Delhi [Images], Singh and Rajapaksa discussed the situation in Sri Lanka [Images], including the LTTE-held north where a military offensive is underway against the Tamil tigers, sources told PTI.

The prime minister talked about the "humanitarian" aspect of the conflict and asked Rajapaksa to ensure protection and welfare of innocent Tamils caught in the war, the sources said.

Singh emphasised that the interests of innocent civilians should be protected even while dealing with terrorism, they said.

The two leaders also discussed the problem of firing by Sri Lankan Navy on Indian fishermen and Rajapaksa assured Singh that his forces would exercise restraint.

This was the first meeting between Singh and Rajapaksa since political parties in Tamil Nadu, including the UPA ally DMK, raised an uproar over the Sri Lankan military offensive and pressed New Delhi to intervene to stop it.

Amid threat of en masse resignations by Tamil MPs, Singh had a telephonic talk with Rajapaksa last month during which the matter was discussed.

After the meeting, a visibly satisfied Rajapaksa said he had assured the prime minister that his government would ensure welfare of Tamils.

"We will assure you. We assure not only the PM but the whole world that we will look after Tamils. Nothing will happen to Tamils. We are looking after our people, it is my duty," the Sri Lankan President told reporters.

To a question on permanent solution to the ethnic conflict, Rajapaksa said, "we must eradicate terrorism first then give political solution. We can't pass this on to the next generation... This is the practical solution."

He ruled out any compromise on fight against terrorism as also the ceasefire against LTTE till the Tamil tigers lay down their arms.

"For over two decades, Sri Lanka has been facing a tremendous challenge to our democratic way of life through barbaric actions of a terrorist group, the LTTE," the President said.

"There is no doubt that such groups have to be dealt with militarily," he said.

On LTTE's offer for ceasefire, Rajapaksa said it could be possible if the Tamil outfit lays down its arms.

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