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A Sri Lankan Tamil minister is here urging India to play a greater role to help his country resolve the ethnic crisis.

“India has to take a more active role to support the Sri Lankan government,” KN Douglas Devananda, the minister for social service and social welfare, said ahead of a conference here on Saturday on the situation in the island.

“The government is ready to grant Tamil rights. They can solve this problem politically. But they need external help, and only India can provide that help,” he added. Asked to elaborate, he remarked: “Let us leave it at that.”

Devananda, who heads the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), is one of only three Tamils in President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s jumbo cabinet.

This is his second visit to India since he came here in November with the president.

Devananda said asking India to take more interest in Sri Lanka would be the theme of his keynote address at the Saturday conference organised by the Indian Council for International Cooperation.

Among others who will take part in the meeting are former external affairs ministers Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha, former foreign secretary Shashank, Janata Party leader Subramaniam Swamy, former diplomat NN Jha, and SC Chandrahasan, who heads a NGO looking after the welfare of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in India.

An official of the Sri Lanka Peace Secretariat is also to address the gathering.

Shashank said the conference had been called to try “to understand and have a better idea of what is going on in Sri Lanka, what India is doing and whether there can be meeting of ideas.

“We cannot (tell Sri Lanka) this is the solution to the conflict. But after the deliberations we can certainly say what can be done. After all the conflict does impact India.”

TN Malhotra, coordinator of the Council that is holding the conference, said the speakers would appraise the intelligentsia and media about the events taking place in Sri Lanka.

Malhotra said the Council was a 30-year-old NGO and its primary aim was to look after the interests of people of Indian origin living in other countries.

But in recent times it had also been taking interest in countries adjoining India.

He said the Council last held a discussion on Sri Lanka in 2002, and one on Fiji last week.

He said there was also a proposal to bring together MPs from India and Sri Lanka under one umbrella.

The conference is taking place amid relentless violence in Sri Lanka, with both Colombo and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) determined to outdo each other.

In the process over 3,000 people have been killed since the start of 2006 and hundreds of thousands displaced.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake and Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollegama were here earlier this week.

Both met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. While Wickremanayake left for Singapore, Bogollegama flew to Germany.

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