Sri Lanka vote threatens India's government

A key ethnic Tamil party has withdrawn from India's coalition goverment, accusing it of watering down a UN resolution criticising Sri Lanka's wartime conduct against its minority Tamil population.

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NEW DELHI // A key ethnic Tamil party withdrew from India's coalition goverment today, accusing the government of watering down a UN resolution criticising Sri Lanka's wartime conduct against its minority Tamil population.

The party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, has demanded the UN Human Rights Council resolution accuse Sri Lanka of genocide and that it lead to the formation of an international inquiry into possible war crimes. The party also demanded a similar resolution be passed by India's parliament.

The party, from Tamil Nadu, has 18 members in parliament, five of them government ministers. The issue of Sri Lanka's actions in the final five months of its quarter century civil war in 2009 poses a conundrum for the Indian government. It is concerned that too strong a resolution will anger Sri Lanka's government and push it deeper into China's sphere of influence.

However, the anger of ethnic Tamil parties in India - and the precarious nature of the coalition - puts it under pressure to take a hard line towards Sri Lanka.

A UN investigation into the final months of the war indicated the ethnic Sinhalese-dominated government might have killed as many as 40,000 minority Tamil civilians. The Tamil Tigers had been fighting for a breakaway Tamil state in northern Sri Lanka.

The Indian finance minister, P Chidambaram, said the government was still considering its position on the UN vote, adding that any resolution by parliament would need consultation with its other government allies, a process the Congress party had already begun. He insisted the DMK's withdrawal would not topple the government, even though the coalition is already a minority government that leans heavily on small regional parties and is routinely held hostage to their pet interests.

National elections are not expected until next year.

The DMK accused the government of diluting a draft Sri Lanka resolution sponsored by the United States and ignoring the Tamil party's concerns.

"It will be a big harm to the Tamil race for the DMK to continue in government," said the party's top leader, K Karunanidhi.

Several Tamil legislators, from the DMK and an opposition party, disrupted parliament, storming the well and chanting: "We want justice."

However, Mr Karunanidhi left open the possibility of rejoining the government, saying: "We are ready to change our opinion," if the demands are met.