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Trudeau aide: India is cooperating with Canada amid tensions over murdered Sikh

FILE PHOTO: A banner with the image of Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar is seen at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple, site of his June 2023 killing, in Surrey

By David Ljunggren and Ismail Shakil

OTTAWA (Reuters) -India is cooperating with Canada and bilateral ties are improving after tensions spiked over the murder of a Sikh separatist leader in British Columbia, a top Canadian official told CTV in an interview published on Friday.

Diplomatic relations soured after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year said Canada was "actively pursuing credible allegations" that Indian agents were potentially linked to the June 2023 murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen. India has denied any formal government role in Nijjar's murder.

"I wouldn't describe them (the Indians) as not cooperating. I think we've made advancements in that relationship," Jody Thomas, Trudeau's national security adviser, told CTV.

CTV published an excerpt from the interview on its website on Friday. The full interview will be aired on Sunday.

Canada has been pressing India to cooperate in its investigation of Nijjar's killing. Last November, U.S. authorities said they had thwarted a plot to kill a Sikh separatist in the United States.

"The information that they (the Americans) revealed supported our position and our assertions with India, and India is working with us ... far more closely to resolve this," Thomas told CTV. Trudeau said in December he sensed a change in New Delhi's tone with Ottawa after the U.S. case.

The acrimony has delayed discussions on a free-trade deal and threatened Canada's plans to expand its influence in the Indo-Pacific region, where New Delhi's cooperation is critical to efforts to check an increasingly assertive China.

"Our ability to function in the Indo Pacific does rely on having a healthy relationship with India. And I think that we are working back towards that," Thomas said. Around 2 million Canadians, or 5% of the population, have Indian heritage.

Canada withdrew 41 diplomats from India after New Delhi in September asked Ottawa to reduce its diplomatic presence following Trudeau's remarks.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren and Ismail Shakil in OttawaEditing by Matthew Lewis)