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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Sri Lanka's former civil war zone

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi folds his hands in a sign of respect during his visit to Ruwanwelisaya, a sacred stupa in Anuradhapura, about 230 kilometers northeast of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, March 14, 2015. Modi said on Friday that India's neighbors should be the first beneficiaries of the nation's economic progress as he sought to woo smaller Indian Ocean states away from increasing Chinese influence. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi folds his hands in a sign of respect during his visit to Ruwanwelisaya, a sacred stupa in Anuradhapura, about 230 kilometers northeast of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, March 14, 2015. Modi said on Friday that India's neighbors should be the first beneficiaries of the nation's economic progress as he sought to woo smaller Indian Ocean states away from increasing Chinese influence. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)  (The Associated Press)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting Sri Lanka's former civil war zone in a sign of solidarity with minority Tamils who are calling for regional autonomy to end a decades-old ethnic conflict.

Modi's visit to the region on Saturday comes a day after he called for greater autonomy for the Tamils during talks with Sri Lankan officials.

      India has a strong interest in the issue because southern India is home to 60 million Tamils.

Sri Lanka's quarter century civil war ended in 2009 when government forces defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels, who were fighting to create a separate state for Tamils in the island nation's north and east.