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Lankan president, Indian PM discuss peace process


NEW DELHI, Dec 28 (AFP): Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday and discussed Colombo's faltering peace process with Tamil Tiger rebels and other issues, officials said.
Rajapakse wants India to get more involved in the peace efforts but there was no immediate word on whether it was willing to do so. A rise in violence blamed on the Tigers has raised fears Sri Lanka is slipping back into war.
The two leaders met for more than two hours at the foreign ministry guest house in the Indian capital, an official said.
They reviewed bilateral relations and explored ways of enhancing cooperation, particularly in the economic field, the Press Trust of India news agency said, quoting official sources.
Rajapakse arrived in India Tuesday for a four-day visit, his first foreign trip since winning the November 17 presidential election.
Ahead of the meeting with Singh, he said India had always supported the island's fragile peace process and he hoped it would continue to do so.
Speaking at a reception, the Sri Lankan president also said the neighbours were working on a Comprehensive Economic Agreement and a number of initiatives had already been taken. He did not elaborate.
Rajapakse is also due to meet President Abdul Kalam, leader of the ruling Congress party Sonia Gandhi, and the ministers of commerce and industry, home, shipping, road transport, and highways and planning.
Rajapakse said last week in Colombo he would use the trip to seek New Delhi's increased participation in peace efforts. "They are our closest neighbour and it is very important for me to have them involved in the process," he told reporters.
The president said he expected India to play a similar role to that of the four so-called "co-chairs" -- the United States, the European Union, Japan and Norway.
The diplomatic quartet are Sri Lanka's key backers and they preside over international efforts to raise money in support of the island's efforts to end three decades of ethnic bloodshed that has claimed more than 60,000 lives.
Rajapakse said last week he was also keen to study India's system of devolution as it could be a model for Sri Lanka to grant extensive power to minority Tamils.
"I am for a unitary state with maximum possible devolution," he said. "I want to study the Indian model and I am sure we can learn from that."
Rajapakse has gone back on a promise by his party to accept a federal system of government in exchange for ethnic peace as initially agreed with the Tamil Tigers during a round of talks in December 2002.