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SL peace bid hits snag over venue

Venue for the talks has always been a problem between the Lankan Govt and the LTTE, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Oct 05, 2006 12:36 IST

Within hours after the Sri Lankan government's announcement that peace talks with the LTTE would be held from October 28 to 30 in Geneva, the LTTE said that there was no certainty about the venue.

It added that there could be no talks while the Sri Lankan armed forces were shelling LTTE-controlled areas from the ground and the air. 

"While it is true that we had agreed to have unconditional talks between Oct 28 and 30, I am not sure if there was agreement over Geneva as the venue," said the LTTE's media spokesman Thaya Master.

He told Hindustan Times over phone from Kilinochchi on Thursday, that talks were doubtful if the government continued to indulge in aerial bombardment and shelling by artillery.

"Our Forward Defence Lines are being pounded daily by government artillery and Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers.

There was aerial bombardment even when the Norwegian peace envoy Hanssen-Bauer was talking to us in Kilinochchi," he said.

"And these attacks are taking place even after the government has agreed to have talks," Thaya Master said.

Earlier, late at night on Wednesday, the government defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella called up media persons to tell them that government had agreed to have talks with the LTTE between October 28 and 30 in Geneva and that the LTTE had agreed to talk "unconditionally."

But he added that government had told the Norwegian peace brokers, and through them the LTTE, that it would reserve the right to "respond appropriately" if at any time the LTTE threatened "national security" by indulging in terrorist actions, assassinations, attacks on the armed forces and smuggling of arms by the sea.

Asked if the daily aerial bombardment would continue, Rambukwella said that these actions were only "retaliatory" as they had invariably followed the LTTE's bombardment of government-held positions with artillery and mortars.

LTTE has preference for Oslo

Venue for the talks has always been a problem between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE.

While the LTTE would like Oslo, the capital of Norway, to be the venue because the Norwegians are perceived to be friendly to it, Sri Lankan governments, barring the UNF regime between December 2001 and March 2004, have been against Oslo.

Sri Lanka has had a very uneasy relationship with Norway, even though it was Colombo, which brought in Norway in the first place.

Colombo would like to jettison Norway from the peace process because of a feeling that Norway has a soft corner for the LTTE.

But it is unable to do so because of international pressure. Even India has cast its lot with the International Community in this regard.

The Sri Lankan government prefers Geneva because it is universally considered to be neutral.   

Political circles feel that the LTTE may want to opt out of the proposed talks, using as excuses, the differences over the venue, and the on-going government military "offensive".

At the moment, the LTTE is militarily weak, having been driven out of Mavil Aaru, Mutur and Sampur in the East, and coming under pressure in Muhamalai, Kilaly, Palai, Nagarkovil and Pooneryn in the North.

The LTTE may be fearing that the Sri Lankan government could wrest concessions using its current military superiority.

LTTE denies it has "White mercenaries"

Reacting to the government's charge that the LTTE was using White military mercenaries, its spokesman, Thaya Master, said that there was no truth in it.

"The charge looks like a ploy to bar White humanitarian aid workers from operating in the North-East," he said.

Earlier, the government's defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella had said that Sri Lankan troops had found two bodies of persons who looked like Whites and not Sri Lankans.

This matter had been taken up with Western diplomatic missions in Colombo, he said. 

According to him, White mercenaries could have entered the North-East in the guise of relief workers in the aftermath of the December 2004 Tsunami.

Rambukwella also announced that the government had banned six International NGOs (INGOs) for alleged links with the LTTE. These INGOs were from France, Spain and the US, he said.