Embrace democracy: Lanka tells LTTE
At the opening session of the peace talks in Geneva on Saturday, the Sri Lankan government asked the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to eschew violence and embrace democracy to end the misery of the long-suffering people of North-East Sri Lanka.
In return, the government assured that it would go the "extra mile" in the search for peace and a system of devolution within an undivided country, and consistent with "regional geo-political realities."
The government's chief negotiator, Nimal Sripala de Silva, said that the main issues in the Sri Lankan conflict were the restoration of democracy, human rights and economic development in the North and East, where these values lay in a shambles as a result of the depredations of the LTTE, which had been wedded to violence.
He proposed that the two delegations take up issues relating to the restoration of democracy and human rights in the North-East, because these were key to the solution of the problem.
Discussions on ideas relating to devolution and power-sharing could also begin at this session, de Silva suggested.
Describing the situation in Sri Lanka, de Silva said that from February 24 to October 17, the LTTE had killed 897 Sri Lankan armed forces personnel, many indiscriminately while being without arms.
Most recently, it killed more than 100 unarmed naval personnel going home on leave on the Dambulla-Habarana road.
It also killed the Deputy Director General of the government Peace Secretariat, " a man of peace and an intellectual."
The chief negotiator said that the government was "shocked" to see these violent acts being committed in the Sinhala majority areas with an intention to provoke the local population.
The killing of 64 civilians including 15 children in a bus at Kebetigollewa was the "most horrendous act".
At Mavil Aaru, the LTTE stopped water meant to serve 15,000 families cultivating 30,000 acres of paddy. It cleansed the town of Mutur of Muslims.
The LTTE had been denying basic democratic rights to people under its tutelage by stifling dissent and banning other political parties from functioning in areas under control.
It had been recruiting children for its combat units. It had 5769 children in its ranks in September 2006, de Silva pointed out.
The Tamil people were also being subjected to extortion, both in the North-East and outside.
But despite the violence of the LTTE, the government had maintained schools and hospitals in the troubled North-East, including areas under the control of the LTTE, de Silva said.
There are 53 hospitals with 4,427 beds. There are 1848 state-funded schools with 700,000 students in the North East.
The government had economic development plans to the tune of $1,250 million for the North-East. But for this amount to be spent, there had to be "stable ground and safe conditions," de Silva said.
Stating the government's stand, de Silva said that it was "essential" that all political parties be allowed free access to the North-East; democratic institutions be allowed to function freely and without interference there; the Sri Lankan police and the legal system be allowed to function throughout the island; and ground work be done for the restoration of full democracy in the North East.
The institution of a system of devolution and power-sharing would have to be explored and discussed, he added.
"These tasks would have to be undertaken by us. The initial ideas of the government could be taken up for discussion here this weekend," de Silva said.
"Honourable peace requires strengthening the democratic norms and processes in the North and East," he stressed.