Sri Lanka Seeks Oslo Help Amid Conflicting Peace Signals
Sri Lanka is seeking clarification from Norway over conflicting claims that separatist Tamil rebels were unconditionally willing to start peace talks, state media reported Sunday.
The government-run Sunday Observer said President Chandrika Kumaratunga's administration wanted further details from Oslo before working out the ground rules for negotiations with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
"Further talks will be held with Norway to clarify some issues before the modalities for peace talks are worked out," the Observer quoted agricultural minister D. M. Jayaratne as saying.
He said that several cabinet ministers had welcomed the idea of direct talks between Kumaratunga and the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, as it could shorten the path to peace.
The minister said the government was also planning to press ahead with a constitutional reform plan aimed at politically ending the conflict which has claimed over 60,000 lives in the past two decades.
The latest remarks came amid conflicting reports that the Tamil rebels were insisting on a ceasefire before opening dialogue with the government.
On November 1, Norway's peace envoy to Sri Lanka, Eric Solheim had a rare meeting with Prabhakaran and a day later raised peace hopes when he announced that the LTTE were serious about opening negotiations without preconditions.
The Colombo government however maintains that the Tigers had imposed conditions and the administration was in the process of trying to clarify this with Solheim.
Norway's Solheim was cautious not to offer a time table for bringing the warring sides to talks.
"It could be in weeks, or it could be in years," Solheim told reporters here 10 days ago. "Nobody can expect a quick fix or an immediate solution."
"We believe that the LTTE are serious and interested in solving the problem through negotiations, but we know that it is going to be difficult."
Contrary to a statement issued by the Tamil Tigers setting a "necessary pre-requisite" to open dialogue, Solheim insisted that Prabhakaran had not placed any preconditions.
"He did not set any preconditions," Solheim said. "But we discussed a variety of possibilities to initiate a peace process. He did not issue preconditions."
The LTTE in a statement issued from their London office said that the de-escalation of the conflict was a necessary pre-requisite for talks.
"By de-escalation, Mr. Prabhakaran meant the cessation of armed hostilities, the removal of military aggression and occupation, the withdrawal of the economic embargo and the creation of conditions of normalcy in the Tamil homeland," the LTTE said.
Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake has vowed to militarily crush the Tamil Tigers, despite the ongoing peace efforts.
He has taken a hawkish stance in resolving the drawn out conflict and dismissed peace talks with Tamil Tigers who are fighting for an independent homeland in the island's northeast.
"As far as we are concerned, the LTTE has to be finished," the Prime Minister told reporters here earlier last month.
Sri Lanka's army chief, Lionel Balagalle, said Saturday that any future negotiations should be held without a truce and a cease-fire could be arranged only after a peace agreement -- COLOMBO (AFP)
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