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No postponement of Geneva talks: SL

Despite doubts over LTTE participation, the Lankan Govt has decided to go ahead, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Apr 16, 2006 21:25 IST

Despite the spokes in the wheel being put by the LTTE, the Sri Lankan government has decided not to cancel its plans to participate in the peace talks in Geneva, scheduled to be held on April 24 and 25.

"As far as we are concerned, the talks are starting on April 24 and we are going," the government's chief negotiator, Nimal Sripala de Silva, told Hindustan Times here on Sunday.

Clearly, the expectation is that the LTTE will come round eventually.

It is noted that the LTTE has not ruled out going to Geneva. Its political wing leader, SP Tamilsevan, had only said that going for the talks was "in question".

Apparently, the government feels that it is in the right on the ticklish sea transportation issue, and that it will have the support of the international community, even if Geneva II does not take place.

The international community is expected to put the blame for aborting the talks squarely at the door of the LTTE.

The LTTE and the government are divided on the issue of Sri Lankan Naval escort for the civilian vessel which is to ferry the LTTE's commanders from one sector to another ahead of the Geneva talks.

The LTTE does not want naval escort, but the government insists on it.

Therefore, on Saturday, when Sri Lankan naval vessels were seen in the vicinity of the Mullaitivu jetty, while the LTTE's commanders were going to board their vessel, the rebel group aborted the voyage.

But the government said that the LTTE had expressly agreed to a naval escort on Friday, and that the LTTE was making a fuss now only to avoid going to Geneva for the talks.

On April 14, both the government and the LTTE had agreed to a Scandinavian truce monitors' document stating the conditions governing the transport of the LTTE commanders and other cadres.

And this document had clearly stated that the civilian vessel to the used by the LTTE would be having a Sri Lankan naval escort with truce monitors on board the naval vessels.

Committing itself to the Geneva talks fixed for April 24 and 25, the government said that it had demonstrated "extreme restraint" in the face of serious provocations "in the interest of giving the peace process every chance of success."

Breaking the deadlock

It is not clear how the LTTE can be made to come for the talks now.

But political observers say that a lot can happen in the eight days between now and April 24.

One of the solutions thought about is for the government to agree to withdraw the naval escort.

But the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) gives no right to the LTTE to travel by sea without being monitored by the Sri Lankan navy, which has sovereign rights over the Sri Lankan seas.

If the LTTE's condition is accepted, President Mahinda Rajapaksa may have to take heavy flak from his hard line allies like the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU).

Rajapaksa's government, which depends on the JVP to survive in the Sri Lankan parliament, may not want to alienate the JVP.

An added reason for caution will be JVP's threat to withdraw support to the Rajapaksa government if he does not make efforts to amend the CFA, which the JVP thinks is a patently pro-LTTE document.

Political observers say that a JVP, which wants the CFA to be amended, will not tolerate any government move to disregard the few provisions in it which are favourable to the Sri Lankan state.

The Sri Lankan navy's exclusive right to the sea is seen as one of the few aspects of the CFA which are favourable to the government.

Tamil view

Many Tamils feel that these controversies will not have arisen if the government had only continued the four year old practice of giving the LTTE's commanders Air Force helicopter rides when they have to go from sector to another.

Transport by a chopper would have limited the number of LTTE cadres traveling. Even the luggage would have been limited. And Sri Lankan Air Force men would have been on board to keep a watch.

After denying air transport, the government offered sea passage in a naval ship.

When the LTTE rejected this and threatened to use its own vessels escorted by its own naval arm, the government came down and agreed to the use of a civilian vessel, with no Sri Lankan Navy men on board.

Government also allowed 30 LTTE cadres to travel.

However, it insisted that the movement of the civilian vessel would be monitored by Sri Lankan naval ships.

But the LTTE would not tolerate even that. It wanted no Sri Lankan Navy ships or men anywhere in the vicinity.

Tough challenge for Norway

Breaking the deadlock may not be easy, with both sides looking at it as a prestige issue.

Political observers say that the LTTE may not budge an inch from its position, unless a concerted and determined effort is made by peace broker Norway, the Scandinavian truce monitors, and the international community, to make it change its mind and allow a Sri Lanka naval escort.