India said it was not ready to forgive Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers after they came the closest yet to admitting killing former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and rejected calls to mediate in the island's conflict.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was apparently testing the waters by trying to reach out to India as it was getting increasingly isolated around the world and feared a major Sri Lankan military crackdown, analysts said.
The comments yesterday came a day after LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingham told India's NDTV the killing was "a monumental historical tragedy" which the Tigers deeply regretted, and called on India to be magnanimous and put the past behind it.
Although Balasingham did not explicitly admit to the killing, the Sri Lankan Government said the comments were tantamount to an admission of the group's guilt.
"As far as that event is concerned, I would say it is a great tragedy, a monumental historical tragedy for which we deeply regret and we call upon the government of India and people of India to be magnanimous to put the past behind," Balasingham said.
Indian officials and leaders of Gandhi's ruling Congress party now headed by his Italian-born widow Sonia dismissed the comments as nothing new.
They said Balasingham had not gone beyond a similar statement made after a 2002 ceasefire between the rebels and Colombo.
"I don't know what all this excitement is about," a top Indian Foreign Ministry official said. "He has not said anything new. Nor has he apologized clearly. Who are they trying to fool?"
"This is a facile, casual statement. It changes nothing."
Officials in Colombo agreed.
"It is an admission of guilt, certainly," said Kethesh Loganathan, Deputy Secretary-General of the Sri Lankan Government peace secretariat. "But it is neither an acknowledgement nor an apology to the government of India and the people of India."
The Tiger statement comes as the island's protracted peace process is deadlocked, and as a rash of deadly ambushes and military clashes threaten to rekindle a two-decade civil war.
Gandhi was killed by a suicide bomber in 1991. Indian courts have named Tamil Tiger leaders as the prime accused, but the group has in the past denied responsibility.
India has had a long and complex involvement in the island nation's ethnic troubles. New Delhi was known to have initially trained the LTTE but it sent in peacekeepers to enforce a peace pact with Colombo a move which backfired as the rebels and Indian troops became locked in a bloody conflict.
The experience was followed by the assassination of Gandhi and India has since stayed away from its southern neighbour's troubles despite appeals by both Colombo and the rebels.
India's Junior Foreign Minister Anand Sharma rejected on Tuesday Balasingham's appeal to get more involved in Sri Lanka's peace process.
"It's just a vague attempt at trying to dilute India's opposition to them," said Alok Bansal, a Sri Lanka expert at New Delhi's Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
"They are in a tight situation as they have lost a lot of support worldwide. So they were trying to test the waters if India would accept them," he said.
Source: China Daily