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No fixed agenda for Lanka talks

At the talks however, neither the Govt nor the LTTE will flinch from raising issues, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Oct 24, 2006 18:09 IST

There is no fixed agenda for the Sri Lankan government-LTTE talks to be held in Geneva on October 28 and 29, a top official of the government Peace Secretariat told Hindustan Times.

Observers said that both sides would raise contentions issues to score propaganda points in front of the international community.

The idea will be to show the other in poor light rather than to come to any substantive agreements.

In the context of the many high voltage military actions since April this year, the Norwegian peace brokers and the international community have been so anxious to get the two sides to cease hostilities, meet face to face, and begin talking, that there has been no insistence on a fixed agenda.

Quest for an agreed agenda might have thwarted the move towards talks.

Issues to be raised

However, at the talks, neither the government nor the LTTE will flinch from raising issues, no matter how explosive they may be.

According to knowledgeable sources, both sides are planning to use the talks to confront each other on a variety of issues, political, military and humanitarian, and show the other in poor light in front of the international community.

Significantly, the government's defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella had said: "We will be going for talks, not peace talks."

He had also made it clear that the government would not restrict itself to the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) but draw the LTTE into a discussion on the "core" issues of the North-East conflict like democracy, pluralism, and human rights.

The idea is to corner the LTTE on issues in which it is weak and expose it.

The LTTE, on the other hand, will highlight the basic and long-standing demands of the Tamils, including the continued merger of the Tamil-speaking Northern and Eastern Provinces.

The merger, effected in 1988, was annulled recently by a Supreme Court order greatly disappointing and angering the Tamil minority.

The LTTE will also take up issues of immediate humanitarian importance like the re-opening of the A9 highway to Jaffna at the Muhamalai end in the North.

The LTTE will argue that the continued closure of the highway is hampering food movement to the Jaffna peninsula, now on the verge of starvation.

But the government will say that the LTTE wants the road to be opened only to collect illegal taxes in millions.

The two parties will accuse each other of gross human rights violations in the guise of waging a just war.

The government will say that the LTTE had massacred Muslims, driven them out of Mutur and other places in the East and kept killing unarmed government troops in non-combat areas.

The LTTE will point to the ceaseless arerial bombardment of Tamil civilian areas, the displacement of 220,000 Tamils and Muslims, and the curbs put on international aid workers wanting to serve in the troubled North-East, especially in areas under the control of the LTTE.

Eager to go for talks

However both sides are keen on going to Geneva now. Neither side has upset the apple cart at this penultimate stage.

On its part, the government did not gloat over the Supreme Court judgement annulling the merger of the Tamil-speaking Northern and Eastern Provinces.

It had also given in to the LTTE's demand that its delegation be provided an Air Force chopper to travel between Kilinochchi and Colombo international airport.

And for its part, the LTTE did not make a big issue of the Supreme Court's judgement and say that it was opting out of the talks as a result of that.

It merely said that no court could deny the Tamils their basic right to a united Tamil- speaking province.

International community's hope

While expecting fireworks at Geneva, the international community hopes that once the two sides have spoken their lines, they will have to come to some agreement, however vague, at least say that they will not initiate violence or carry out new offensives and pledge support to the CFA and the peace process.