India says ready to back U.N. vote on Sri Lanka war crimes

NEW DELHI Mon Mar 19, 2012 8:55pm IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Pretoria October 18, 2011. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Pretoria October 18, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India said on Monday it was likely to support a U.S.-led resolution at the United Nations to pressure Sri Lanka on war crimes, a policy shift that helps the government domestically but could damage relations with the island nation.

Western powers are increasingly taking Sri Lanka to task for not investigating allegations of widespread extra-judicial killings and other abuses by soldiers against Tamil minority civilians in the final months of a decades-long civil war that ended in 2009.

"We do not yet have the final text," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the lower house of parliament, referring to a resolution that calls on Sri Lanka to honour a promise to probe the alleged abuses. "However, I may assure the house that we are inclined to vote in favour," Singh added.

The proposed resolution, which is due later this month though no date has been fixed, carries no legal sanctions, but could damage Sri Lanka's image as it steps up efforts to attract tourists and investment.

During the war, India tacitly supported President Mahinda Rajapaksa's determination to wipe out the Tamil Tiger separatists, and since then it has backed Sri Lanka's position that it can handle its own internal affairs.

Political pressure has been mounting on Singh to alter his stance, and India's Tamil-dominated Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party, which is key to Singh's coalition, threatened to quit the government if it does not support the resolution.

Were India to vote with the U.S. and other Western governments at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Sri Lanka could ally itself more firmly with China, which is building a major port on the south of the island and helped finance the last stage of the war.

Sri Lanka's Foreign Secretary Karunatilake Amunugama told Reuters India had not informed his government of any change in position.

"I would say they would take a measured response considering our friendship and bilateral relations. So we believe India would support us," he said.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has launched an internal probe to study the last seven years of the war, but critics say he has dragged his feet on the investigation.

"Not much progress has been achieved on reconciliation in Sri Lanka. And there is a lot of public concern in India," an official in India's foreign ministry said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

(Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal in Colombo; Editing by Daniel Magnowski and Frank Jack Daniel)

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