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Former Indian foreign secretary SK Singh
India has to be very cautious
 real 28k

The BBC's Mike Wooldridge in Delhi
The Sri Lankan army's plight poses India with a dilemma
 real 28k

Thursday, 4 May, 2000, 13:38 GMT 14:38 UK
India's Sri Lankan scars

Sri Lankan recruits being trained by an Indian soldier
India appears to have ruled out any military intervention in the ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka - despite the stunning gains made by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) against Sri Lankan forces.

But India is reluctant to get involved after its bitter experience following two previous attempts to intervene in Sri Lanka.

Public opinion in India is also against involvement, especially after the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi by a suspected Tamil Tiger suicide bomber in 1991.

Help sought

Speculation that India had been approached by the Sri Lankan Government for military assistance built up after a meeting between the Indian prime minister and the Sri Lankan foreign minister on Wednesday.

But for the moment, India has firmly rejected any suggestion it will intervene.

It is not India's responsibility to evacuate Sri Lankan soldiers

Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh
Earlier, a delegation of Buddhist monks had petitioned India's high commissioner in Colombo.

Sri Lanka's influential Buddhist clergy have historically opposed Indian military intervention, even threatening suicide if Indian troops landed on the island.

Painful memories

India paid a heavy price when its intervention in the 1980s went badly wrong.

In 1971, India helped put down a Marxist rebellion in Sri Lanka.

Bitter history
Troops sent in to quell rebellion

Rajiv Gandhi sends in IPKF
More than a 1,000 die

Troops pullout

Rajiv Gandhi assassinated
The next intervention took place in July 1987, when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi sent in the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to disarm the Tigers.

But they ended up being drawn into the conflict, when the rebels refused to lay down their arms.

More than 1,000 soldiers died and India was forced into an embarrassing withdrawal, after being heavily criticised at home.

Domestic politics

The memory has scarred Indian policy makers who fear a similar outcome if the country is drawn in again.
Rajiv Gandhi funeral
'No government can forget the Gandhi assassination'
"The spillover was quite serious and even led to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi," says political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan.

His comments are echoed by former Indian foreign secretary, SK Singh, who said no government could forget the brutal killing in 1991.

The government also has to consider the sentiments of powerful Tamil parties, which make up the governing coalition in Delhi.

"If India does decide to help . . . and if some Tamil civilians are killed after that, those groups will be baying for the government's blood," says Mr Rangarajan.

Vajpayee has an eye on domestic opinion
India is home to over 55 million Tamils, who live in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, separated from Sri Lanka by a narrow strait.

They share strong historical and cultural links with Sri Lanka's Tamil minority and even provided a base for the LTTE for a while.

Regional conflict

At the same time, India cannot afford to stand by idly.

It is conscious of its image as a regional power and is lobbying to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Diplomats and analysts say Delhi realises that if it stays away from the conflict, it could open the door to other countries to step in to what is, effectively, its backyard.

It represents a dilemma for the country's rulers and one that they have to approach with considerable caution.

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See also:

03 May 00 | South Asia
Sri Lankan army on the ropes
30 Apr 00 | South Asia
Sri Lanka desperate for arms
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