Sri Lankan President Junius R. Jayewardene has agreed to a request by the government of India to hold talks with the leaders of the Tamil minority to find a long-range solution to the ethnic strife that left more than 300 persons dead in clashes early this month, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi said today.
Reporting to the Indian Parliament on her two days of talks with Sri Lankan special envoy H.W. Jayewardene, the president's brother, Gandhi said she had offered India's assistance in reopening the dialogue with leaders of Sri Lanka's 3.5 million Tamils.
Asserting that India does not intend to interfere in Sri Lanka's internal affairs, the prime minister said that because of the close cultural and historical ties between Sri Lanka and Tamils in southern India, this country also was affected by the violence.
Gandhi said Jayewardene had agreed to hold talks with Tamil leaders, the first since the Tamil-Sinhalese clashes, "to find a lasting solution to their problems within the framework of a united Sri Lanka."
She announced that the Indian government is establishing a relief committee, initially funded with $1 million, to provide aid for riot-affected Sri Lankans, and that a delegation from Parliament will visit Sri Lanka.
The talks between Gandhi and the Sri Lankan president's brother appeared to have eased tensions that had developed between the two countries even before the outbreak of the violence in Sri Lanka.
Indian Foreign Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao had expressed concern over emergency regulations that permitted the disposal of the bodies of persons killed by security forces without autopsy or notification of relatives.
The Sri Lankan government reacted sharply to the criticism, charging interference by India, and some Sri Lankan ministers revived long-dormant charges that Tamil insurgent guerrillas seeking an independent state in the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka were obtaining refuge in predominantly Tamil areas of southern India.
Gandhi told the Parliament that she had asked Jayewardene about the Sri Lankan government's decision earlier this week to assume ownership of damaged and abandoned Tamil property.
She said the special envoy explained that it had been done "in the interest of the affected persons to prevent distress sales, unlawful occupation and other such possible misuse."
Gandhi said the envoy had reiterated that President Jayewardene is willing to make major concessions to the leading Tamil party of Sri Lanka, the Tamil United Liberation Front, provided that the party renounces its separatist demands.
The Sri Lankan president, in an interview in Colombo last week, said that if the Tamil front agreed to a united Sri Lanka, he would withdraw the Army from the Northern Province, repeal the stringent Prevention of Terrorism Act, offer an amnesty to political prisoners, broaden the use of Tamil as a national language, and give increased autonomy to Tamils in the form of district development councils.
Gandhi said that when she told the envoy the concessions may not satisfy the Tamils, he said the Sri Lankan government is willing to consider "any other proposals which would give the Tamil minority its due share in the affairs of their country within the framework of a united Sri Lanka."
The front, however, rejected the demand that its members renounce separatism, and its 17 members of Parliament dropped out of the legislature, which is dominated by Jayewardene's United National Party.
Tamil members of both houses of the Indian Parliament staged a walkout today, criticizing the prime minister for failing to condemn what they termed the "genocide of Sri Lanka."