COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Several thousand Indian troops will remain in Sri Lanka territory until Tamil rebels surrender their weapons and a cease-fire has been sustained in the ethnic civil war between the Tamil rebels and Sri Lanka government forces, a senior Indian diplomat said here Thursday.
Shortly after dawn Thursday, a brigade of 3,000 Indian infantry was flown into the Jaffna Peninsula at the northern tip of this island nation. The Jaffna Peninsula, a Tamil stronghold where Tamils are in the majority, has been the scene of much of the fighting in the four-year ethnic war.
"They are a peacekeeping force that has come at the invitation of the Sri Lanka president," said Indian Ambassador J. N. Dixit. "They have come to ensure the surrender of arms and to sustain the cease-fire that came into effect yesterday (Wednesday)."
More Troops Expected
Dixit said even more troops are expected in the next few days and that Indian navy ships have also begun patrolling along the Sri Lanka coast. So far, he said, the soldiers have been confined to the airport staging area where they landed in 35 Indian transport planes.
According to Dixit, leaders in the largest Tamil fighting group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, have agreed to observe a cease-fire once the Indian army is deployed. He said he also expects the Tigers to cooperate in the surrender of their weapons.
The Indian military intervention in Sri Lanka--India's first foreign campaign since the 1971 Bangladesh war--came only hours after Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President Junius R. Jayewardene signed an agreement of cooperation aimed at ending the war.
More Than 50 Slain
The pact calls for a cease-fire, the surrender of weapons by Tamil rebel groups, the withdrawal of Sri Lankan forces to the positions held before a successful May offensive, creation of a province where Tamils will be in the majority and a referendum in northeastern Sri Lanka so that communities can decide whether to be part of that province.
The agreement sparked violent protests. More than 50 people were killed in rioting on Tuesday and Wednesday in the Colombo area alone, which remained under strict military curfew Thursday night. Dozens of city buses and government offices were burned in the riots, the worst here since 1983.
On national television Thursday night, President Jayewardene appealed for an end to the violence and apologized for an attack Thursday morning on Gandhi.
Gandhi was assaulted by a sailor in the ranks of a guard of honor for the formal farewell ceremony at the presidential palace. The Indian leader escaped serious injury in the attack, which occurred less than two hours after the Indian troop deployment had been reported by the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Sri Lankan television footage of the attack showed the guard raising his Kalashnikov rifle like a club and swinging it, striking Gandhi's left shoulder and neck with the butt. However, Gandhi saw the blow coming and was able to duck, avoiding a blow to the head.
Police later identified the attacker as 26-year-old Wijayamunige Rohana. He was under arrest in Colombo, but there is no word yet on what charges he might face. The motive for Rohana's attack was not clear.
Gandhi, 44, son of assassinated Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was examined by his personal physician on the aircraft returning to New Delhi and was pronounced fit.
In his television broadcast, Jayewardene described the attack as an "insult" to an honored guest. He apologized to Gandhi, Gandhi's wife and family and to the people of India. The Sri Lanka president blamed the state of violence in recent days on an underground leftist political party, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna.
Rural Roads Blockaded
He did not mention the presence of Indian troops on the Jaffna Peninsula but said he has taken steps that "will make terrorism extinct." After the president had spoken, the national security minister, Lalith Atulathmudali, delivered an emotional television speech appealing to demonstrators to open up blockaded roads so that emergency food supplies could be distributed.
Atulathmudali's speech was the first indication from a Sri Lankan official that travel, even for government vehicles, on main roads outside the capital has been disrupted.
Like Jayewardene, he appealed for peace: "This country needs a period of calm, a period of introspection." He announced that the nationwide curfew would be lifted for four hours this morning to allow people to buy food. However, he declared the day a special bank and merchants holiday.
Officials and Western diplomats in Colombo anticipate more trouble in the streets after news of the Indian military intervention circulates. In fact, some of the same Indian aircraft that were used to bring Indian troops to the island Thursday ferried more than 600 Sri Lanka troops from their positions in the north to Colombo, where they will help patrol the streets against rioting.