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US role: Uneasy India says no core group

Thursday 6 January 2005

NEW DELHI: Even as it maintained that it was working in close co-ordination with the US and that there was no misapprehension over presence of American troops in Sri Lanka, India today declared that the four-nation core group set up at the initiative of the US to oversee relief work for the Tsunami-hit had been disbanded.

The assertion came 24 hours after US Ambassador David Mulford had commended the teamwork achieved by the core group comprising the US, India, Australia and Japan.

Admittedly though, Mr Mulford had agreed that the group was a temporary one and would disassemble once its utility ended.

Addressing a press briefing on India’s role in relief and rehabilitation operations in Tsunami affected countries, foreign secretary Shyam Saran contended that core group had run its utility and the role had now been taken over by the United Nations as the focus was now shifting to rehabilitation.

He said the purpose behind forming the group had been to initiate a quick response to the disaster. The preference for the UN as the key organisation to oversee relief work also appeared in line with the Indian position favouring UN multilateralism.

Mr Saran, however, rejected the view that the presence of US troops in vicinity of the Indian subcontinent had disturbed New Delhi. “I don’t think there is any misunderstanding or misapprehension in this regard. There is a disaster. There is a requirement for assistance’’ he said adding that if the US believed it could contribute to this task, it was more than welcome.

The posture notwithstanding, the sudden announcement of disbanding the core group has indicated New Delhi’s uneasiness over US’ attempts to play a greater role in the region. A pointer is the manner in which troops of the two countries are engaged in relief work in Sri Lanka.

While the two countries have asserted that there is co-ordination, there have not been any instances of joint operations. Mr Saran also said that there were “no formal delineation of areas of operation’’ but at the same time, asserted that the effort was “not to get into each other’s way’’.

A defence official at the same briefing said a co-ordination centre had been set up in Colombo and Jakarta where the commanding officers were interacting with their US counterparts.

India has already deployed a sizeable force in Sri Lanka for relief operations including 10 ships, helicopters, Dornier aircraft and 5,000 troops.

The military assistance has included rebuilding the ports of Galle and Trincomalee and road repair besides search and rescue operations. Besides Sri Lanka, India has also deployed naval ships and troops to Maldives and Indonesia.

The foreign secretary also described as “completely misplaced” reports about India adopting a “dogmatic” position by refusing foreign assistance.

It is not a dogmatic position,” he said contending that as of now the country has the capabilities to deal with the disaster. “At any time we need the support of friendly countries, we will review it.”

Mr Saran said in view of the enormity of the loss of lives and damage suffered by other countries like Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Maldives, India felt it would be better that international efforts were directed at those who need it more.

See online : The Economic Times

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