CHOGM decision pending, South Block quietly prepares for PM visit

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With the decision on whether Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka next week still awaited, the government has quietly started making preparations for a possible visit to Colombo and Jaffna.

It is learnt that Indian security and protocol teams are already examining locations in Colombo and Jaffna, in case the PM decides to fly down to the island nation. As per the schedule, Singh is expected to leave on November 14 and return on November 15.

The Indian High Commission in Colombo and the consulate in Jaffna are busy chalking out the programme and liaising with Sri Lankan authorities. If the PM decides to visit Jaffna, the Sri Lankan authorities will have to arrange for a mid-size plane.

According to sources, the security protocol demands that the PM's route and the sites which he is likely to visit are scanned beforehand so there are no last-minute glitches.

The MEA is learnt to have pitched for the PM's visit to Sri Lanka and a proposal has been put forward to the PMO for stopping over in Jaffna. The proposal also includes a meeting with Northern Provincial Council's newly-elected Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran.

South Block is also moving towards mobilising an Air India aircraft and the civil aviation authorities are being alerted to set aside a flying time on November 14 and 15. The Indian High Commission has also blocked rooms in a five-star hotel owned by an Indian hotel chain.

While preparations are underway, the government is still divided over Singh's participation. The visit has been publicly opposed by three Cabinet ministers, while the Tamil parties have also called for a complete boycott.

Asked about the PM's participation, the MEA's official spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin on Wednesday said, "When I last met you, I did indicate to you and confirmed that a process (of consultations) is underway. I can confirm that the process is now fairly advanced. And all issues relating to that are available for decision making, and we hope to have an early outcome of that decision. We will communicate to you once that decision is made available to us."

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