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Sri Lanka Seeks India's Support

Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe is in India on a three day visit. He is expected to seek India's support for a peace process with Tamil rebels and greater economic cooperation with New Delhi.

The Sri Lankan prime minister says he is confident New Delhi will back his government's bid to make peace with Tamil rebels.

This is his second visit to India in the past six months, and is considered crucial ahead of the Sri Lanka's plans to repeal a 1999 ban on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Legal steps to lift the ban have begun.

Sri Lankan officials say a formal announcement on ending the outlaw status of the Tamil Tigers will be made after Mr. Wickremesinghe returns to the country later this week. This will clear the way for peace talks with the rebels.

No date has been set for the peace talks, they are expected to begin next month.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is also outlawed by several countries, including the United States, Britain and India.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said India remains committed to peace in the island nation. "Our commitment to the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and to the restoration of a lasting peace through a peaceful negotiated settlement in that country, which meets the just aspirations of all elements of Sri Lankan society remains undiminished," he said.

India has steered clear of the ethnic conflict since the late 1980s after a peace agreement it mediated between the rebels and the Sri Lankan government collapsed.

But Tamil rebel chief Vellupillai Prabhakaran is wanted in India in connection with the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. This could complicate Sri Lanka's peace process if India persists in its demand for extradition of Mr. Prabhakaran.

Mr. Wickremesinghe's visit also focuses on strengthening economic links with India. He met Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, and Commerce Minister Murasoli Maran. Sri Lanka is looking for aid and trade concessions from New Delhi to boost the reconstruction of the island's economy, which is facing its worst slump in half a century.

India says it will supply wheat and other goods on credit worth $100 million to Sri Lanka. Mr. Wickremesinghe also discussed other trade deals including expanding a free trade agreement.