Norway peace effort not dead, says Palitha Kohona
The Sri Lankan foreign secretary hopes the Norwegian facilitators will go on to play a key role in bringing Tigers to the negotiating table.india Updated: Feb 15, 2007 13:05 IST
Norway's effort to end Sri Lanka's civil war was not dead despite increased violence and a lack of any progress in bringing the government and Tamil Tiger rebels to the negotiating table, the island's foreign secretary said on Thursday.
Direct talks between the two sides in Geneva last year failed, and a string of attacks, bombings and clashes have taken place, stretching a 2002 Norwegian-brokered ceasefire to the breaking point.
"I would simply say that the Norwegian peace process is not dead and that we hope that the Norwegian facilitators will continue to play a critical role in bringing the Tamil Tigers to the negotiating table," said Palitha Kohona.
Kohona was in Beijing to arrange a visit for Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the countries.
The Tamil Tigers have fought for decades to create an independent homeland for Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil minority, and are also known to conscript children into their armed forces.
Fighting between the Tigers and the military has killed at least 68,000 people since 1983, including about 3,600 who died last year despite the ceasefire.
Both sides say they still adhere to the truce. "The government is committed to a negotiated peace," said Kohona, who also heads the government's Peace Secretariat in charge of negotiations with the Tamil Tigers.
"But as long as they adopt terrorist approaches to achieving political objectives, the government will deal with them in an appropriate manner," he said.
The Sri Lankan government has been criticised for some of its military actions, especially in the east, where the mainstream rebels have been weakened by a 2004 split.
The government has launched several offensives and taken territory from the rebels. But Kohona rejected the criticism, saying "no country deals with terrorists with kid gloves, and the Tamil Tigers have been branded as terrorists by the international community."
Kohona said Rajapakse would likely announce China's involvement in building a coal-powered power plant in Sri Lanka worth $400 million to $500 million (euro306 million to euro382 million).
Kohona said China could also take a major role in a planned $1 billion (euro760 million) integrated harbor project in Hambantota on Sri Lanka's southern coast that would have an oil refinery, container port and airport.
The project has been proposed for years but has been bogged down in internal politics in Sri Lanka as well as worries by investors about an escalation in the war.
Kohona said Sri Lanka had allocated an offshore oil exploration lot to China. Such offshore oil exploration plans have also been held up in the past by the civil war.
Kohona also said Sri Lanka would give a baby elephant to China to mark the anniversary of diplomatic ties.