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Caution, watch word for SL at Geneva

It is important for the Govt and the global community, to keep the LTTE at the table, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Feb 22, 2006 14:58 IST

"Caution" will be the watch word forthe Sri Lankan negotiating team at the talks with the LTTE on the implementation of the controversial Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), which are to begin in Geneva on Wednesday.

Indications are that the government's negotiating team will try not to alienate the LTTE, even though efforts will be made to change the CFA to rid it of some glaring distortions.

There is bound to be stiff opposition from the LTTE to any move to amend or add on to the CFA.

Therefore, the government will not press the issue beyond a point.

It is important for the government and the international community at large, to keep the LTTE at the table because it had not come for talks for three long years.

The LTTE withdrew from the talks process in April 2003, accusing the government on dilly dallying on all issues.

The government's cautious approach was evident from the remarks made by Rohitha Bogollagama, the spokesman of the delegation, in Geneva on Tuesday.

He told Daily Mirror that the government side would "inform" the LTTE of the need for fresh clauses and safeguards, but it would not insist on replacing the document.

The government side would press for "additional" clauses, because the existing agreement had "severely undermined the overall objective of peace," he said.

But, keen as it might be on discussing changes in the truce pact, the government team was "wary about pushing too hard and risking a Tiger walk out", the Daily Mirror noted.

The LTTE has refused to consider any amendment to the CFA, as it believes that all problems associated with it have stemmed from flawed implementation by the government, and not from the document itself.

To the soft-spoken Bogollagama, the overall objective of the talks was to "secure peace".

He told the state-owned Daily News on arrival, that in the interactions with the LTTE, the government delegation would be "determined to maintain the spirit of the talks with a great degree of respect for each other".

On the government's known stand that the CFA was flawed and had to be reviewed or revised, Bogollagama admitted that it was flawed.

"But it is the only document we have before us. Let's look at it and we should be able to move forward," he added helpfully.

At the general press conference, Bogollagama sounded accommodating on the CFA when questioned in English, but stuck to the hard line when addressing the Sinhala media.

When the English paper Sunday Leader pressed for a firm answer on the issue of revising the CFA, he dodged, saying: " I am a negotiator". He declined to use the term "amend".

But when the same question was put to him in Sinhala, he said: "That is mandate. We must make it a meaningful ceasefire."

Bogollagama said that the CFA document in existence was a four-year-old one and that it had to be looked at again in the light of fresh developments.

"We have to, therefore, look at areas of development associated with the CFA."

However, the government's basic agenda was peace and confidence building, he stressed.

JVP not keen on amending CFA now

Very interestingly, the hard line Sinhala nationalist party, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which had been vigorously touting the need for a fresh CFA, said on Tuesday that in the current talks at Geneva, only the implementation of the existing CFA need be discussed.

This was stated by Vijitha Herath, the international affairs spokesman of the JVP, in an interview to the Tamil daily Sudar Oli.

LTTE and Norway show flexibility

Meanwhile, both the LTTE and the peace broker Norway, have shown flexibility on the issue of the headship of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), the Scandinavian team which monitors the ceasefire in Sri Lanka.

According to the Sri Lankan delegation's spokesman, Rohitha Bogollagama, both the LTTE and Norway had accepted the Sri Lankan government's plea to replace the present Head of Mission, Brig Hagrup Haukland from Norway, by a person from another Scandinavian country.

Brig. Ulf Henricsson from Sweden would now replace Brig.Haukland. He would be taking charge on April 1, a Norwegian government release said on Tuesday.

The Sri Lankan government has for long been saying that the Head of the SLMM should be from a Scandinavian country other than Norway because the mediator and the monitor should not be from the same country.

Co-chairs plea for flexibility at talks

The co-chairs of the Tokyo donors' conference have appealed to the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to be "flexible" at the talks in Geneva.

The co-chairs, the EU, US, Norway and Japan, said in a statement on Tuesday: "We urge the parties to approach the opportunity with an open and flexible attitude."

"We also welcome the decreased violence since January 25 announcement of the talks as a sign that the parties take seriously and fully respect their commitments under the Ceasefire Agreement."

First Published: Feb 22, 2006 14:58 IST