COLOMBO, JUNE 3, REUTER — Sri Lanka is pushing for the withdrawal of at least part of a 52,000strong. Indian peacekeeping force as the first anniversary of their arrival approaches, military officials and diplomats said on Friday.

A joint statement issued on Tuesday at the end of a two day visit by Indian defense minister K.C. Pant said the strength of the Indian force in Sri Lanka would be reviewed “depending on operational requirements and the situation on the ground.”

It said that because of “the encouraging situation in the north and east, the Indian side conveyed that forces not required would return to India in the near” future.

Pant, who had three hours ot talks with president Junius Jayewardene, declined to disclose any details of the withdrawal.

The announcement was a bland end to two weeks of speculation that began with an announcement by Lands Minister Gamini Dissanayake, Sri Lanka’s chief negotiator over the conflict with Tamil separatist rebels, that Pant was coming to discuss a phased troop pullout.

“What is happening so far perpetuates the image that something is happening,” a western diplomat noted

“There’s a lot of fairly skillful image weaving that something is coming, but nothing actually is ‘happening.””

Another western diplomat said India might want to send some of its soldier’s home by July “because the longer they stay the more it shows the accord is not working.”

There is also a widespread belief among Sri Lankans that India will maintain a military presence in the island indefinitely because it suits New Delhi’s strategic interests.

“The Ltte gave India a free ticket to come to Sri Lanka. This is why India will not crush the Tigers,” said a prominent Tamil resident in Jaffna.

Some Sri Lankan military officials in areas where the Indians operate have also complained that the soldiers are not chasing the top rebels.

Article extracted from this publication >> June 10, 1988