New Lanka PM seeks Indian help

  • AseanPlus News
  • Wednesday, 07 Apr 2004

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka's new prime minister, Mahinda Rajapakse, assumed office yesterday vowing to pursue the peace efforts of his predecessor and seek a greater Indian involvement to end ethnic bloodshed. 

Rajapakse, 58, said he wanted neighbouring India to play a role in the island's peace efforts, but did not specify how he wanted New Delhi to become involved. 

“We must keep the peace process moving,” Rajapakse said at President Chandrika Kumaratunga's office where he was sworn in to head a minority government in independent Sri Lanka's 13th parliament. 

“I have always said that we should get more Indian involvement in the process. They are our biggest neighbour,” Rajapakse told reporters here. 

“But, I don't mean stopping the Norwegian involvement.” 

NEW PREMIER: Rajapakse sitting in front of his wife and three sons at his swearing-in ceremony in Colombo on Tuesday. - Reuterspic

India had been supportive of the Norwegian-backed peace process but has refused a hands-on approach after New Delhi's bitter experience of deploying troops in the island ended with conflict against rebels between 1987 and 1990. 

Rajapakse said the peace process of his predecessor, Ranil Wickremesinghe, will be pursued, but admitted that Kumaratunga as head of state and leader of their Freedom Alliance will be the main driving force. 

Soon after his swearing-in, Rajapakse went in for a meeting with India's High Commissioner here, Nirupam Sen, officials said, underscoring his close links with the South Asian country. 

Rajapakse was named premier by Kumaratunga on Monday night after he emerged on top after a bitter struggle within her Freedom Alliance, which won 105 seats in the 225-member assembly. 

Despite Rajapakse's commitment to continue peace efforts, the tiny Colombo Stock Exchange shed 9.5% yesterday, the first day of trading following Friday's snap polls. 

The Marxist JVP, or the People's Liberation Front, which is a dominant force in Kumaratunga's Alliance, announced it was taking four key ministries – agriculture, lands, culture and rural industries. 

The full list of cabinet ministers is to be announced today, officials in Kumaratunga's office said. 

A lawyer by profession, Rajapakse had been a member of parliament since 1970 representing the southern district of Hambantota. He is also seen as a moderate supporting peace talks with Tamil Tiger rebels. 

Rajapakse must look to allies in parliament, but so far no party has formally announced extending support to his government. 

However, Kumaratunga decided on Monday to go ahead with forming a minority government ahead of the first session of the new parliament on April 22. 

Outgoing premier Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Monday that the political instability was a serious blow to efforts to end three decades of ethnic bloodshed that has claimed more than 60,000 lives. 

Wickremesinghe said the peace process as well as the economy was in jeopardy following Friday's elections that returned a hung parliament. 

Wickremesinghe was the key figure leading the peace process after having entered into a truce with the Tiger rebels in February 2002. 

The Tigers warned on Monday that they would return to war unless the new government agrees to grant them self-rule. – AFP  

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