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Sri Lankan President Begins a Three-Day Visit to India


Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa began a three-day visit to India, his first since the end of his country's 25-year civil war.

Although New Delhi provided military support for Sri Lanka and did not questioned Colombo's tactics in defeating the Tamil Tigers last year, India is expected to urge the country to devolve political power to the Tamils to ensure lasting peace.

Hours before President Mahinda Rajapaksa's arrival in New Delhi, pro Tamil groups in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu waved black flags and held demonstrations to protest the visit.

India has a large population of Tamils in the south who share close cultural and religious links with Tamils in Sri Lanka. As a result, there has always been concern in India about how the ethnic minority is treated in the neighboring island nation. Tamils make up about 12.5 per cent of the population in Sinhalese dominated Sri Lanka.

New Delhi supported the Sri Lankan government's military campaign which brought an end last year to the three decade long civil war waged by Tamil Tiger rebels for an independent Tamil homeland.

But India now wants Sri Lanka to give its Tamil population, which dominate the north and the east of the country, some measure of self-governance to ensure political reconciliation. India also wants the rehabilitation of tens of thousands Tamils who were displaced during the conflict.

During talks with President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Wednesday, Indian leaders are likely to press the Sri Lankan leader about how he plans to forge a political consensus and ensure lasting peace in the wake of the war.

Sri Lankan leaders have been saying a post war reconciliation plan is high on their agenda. On Monday - a day before visiting India - President Rajapaksa held his first meeting with representatives of the main political party representing the Tamils, the Tamil National Alliance. He asked them to trust him and said he is working toward a political resolution.

Sri Lanka is also expected to seek more cooperation from India in rebuilding the north of the country which has been ravaged by the decades-long civil conflict.

India already has a contract to rebuild the damaged rain network in the north. Both countries are also expected to sign a number of pacts to expand cooperation in areas such as counter terrorism.

However there are concerns in Sri Lanka over a proposed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between the two countries. There have been calls in his country not to go ahead with it because it would allow India to enter the services sector.

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