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The Tamil conflict

Murali KrishnanSeptember 5, 2012

Sri Lanka has advised its citizens not to travel to the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu in wake of an attack on Sri Lankan pilgrims. Indo-Sri Lankan ties have been tense since then.

Civilians who have fled from Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) controlled areas arrive at an aid camp near Vavuniya
Image: picture-alliance/ dpa

A bus carrying around 180 Sri Lankan pilgrims was attacked on Tuesday night in the Indian Tamil Nadu state. The pilgrims, who were visiting the churches in the state, were attacked with stones and sticks by people. Later on, the Sri Lankans were forced to cut short their trip and were sent back to Sri Lanka by the state government.

“This has never happened to us. What have we done?” Pritam John, a pilgrim, told DW as he prepared to leave Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu.

Tamil operation

The Indo-Sri Lankan ties have been tense since the Sri Lankan government defeated Tamil rebels in its north in 2009, ending the 25-year-long civil war. This resulted in increased tensions in Tamil Nadu, which is home to a sizeable Tamil population.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
India broke with tradition and backed UN resolution against Sri LankaImage: picture-alliance/dpa

In March, Tamil Nadu politicians criticized the central government for failing to put pressure on Sri Lanka to probe alleged war crimes during the 2009 military operation against Tamil rebels. They demanded that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government must support a US-backed UN resolution that called for a probe into operation. Under pressure from the Tamil Nadu government, Prime Minister Singh was forced to back the resolution.

“Our main priority is to ensure safety of our people. That is why we ordered a special flight for our nationals,” said R.K.M.A. Rajakaruna, the Sri Lankans deputy high commissioner for southern India.

No signs of normalization of ties

The attacks on Sri Lankan citizens came after the Tamil Nadu government sent back the Sri Lankan football team, which was in India to play a friendly match against the Chennai team over the weekend. Chief Minister Jayalalithaa suspended a stadium official for allowing the Sri Lankan team to participate in the match, saying the official had offended native Tamils of the state.

Previously, Jayalalithaa had written a letter to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanding that military training of Sri Lankan officers in India be immediately halted. More than 450 Sri Lankan army officers are being trained by Indian military at various military centers in India.

Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalitha
Tamil Nadu politicians want Delhi to put pressure on Sri LankaImage: AP

'Act rationally'

But some Indian political experts say that the whole Tamil Nadu is not against Sri Lankans.

“Only some Tamil groups are against Sri Lankans," Ganesh Venkatraman, a Sri Lanka expert, told DW. "These groups should not be allowed to have an impact on Indio-Sri Lankan relations," he said.

Former Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K. Karunanidhi said the state government should act rationally.

“Relations between Sri Lankan Tamils and those living in Tamil Nadu are very close. In these circumstances, asking the Sri Lankan players to leave India and attacking Sri Lankan pilgrims will affect bilateral relations," Karunanidhi said in a statement.