Indian foreign minister to visit Sri Lanka as rebels retreat: report

NEW DELHI, January 27, 2009 (AFP) – India’s foreign minister was set to visit Sri Lanka Tuesday as the Tamil Tiger rebels struggled to defend their last remaining strongholds, the Press Trust of India reported. Pranab Mukherjee was expected to meet Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse to push for a lasting political solution to the long-running ethnic conflict, it said.

Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils share close cultural and religious links with the 55 million Tamils in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

The Tamil Tigers were outlawed in India after being held responsible for the 1991 assassination of former Congress prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Sri Lankan troops captured the last Tamil Tiger stronghold of Mullaittivu on Sunday, which observers predict will force the rebels to return to guerrilla warfare tactics.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed since the conflict began but the government pulled out of an on-off ceasefire last year and launched a fresh campaign to crush the Tigers.

The Indian foreign ministry declined to confirm Mukherjee’s visit.