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Govt-LTTE mull use of sea plane

With this, the chances of peace talks resuming in Geneva have brightened, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Apr 28, 2006 17:17 IST

Chances of peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE have brightened with the two sides likely to come to an agreement soon on the controversial issue of the transport of the LTTE's top commanders.

A well placed diplomatic source told Hindustan Times on Friday, that the government had offered a sea plane of the state-owned Sri Lankan Airlines for the transport of the LTTE's top commanders from the Eastern to the Northern sector and back, for mutual consultations ahead of the peace talks.

Peace talks, which were to be held in Geneva on April 24 and 25, had to be indefinitely postponed in view of the crisis over transport.

"The Norwegian facilitators have been discussing the government's sea plane offer with the LTTE, and the LTTE has not dismissed the idea," a senior diplomat said.

"The Norwegians seem to be confident that the LTTE will agree."

"The modalities and the technical details are being worked out," he said.

The LTTE had earlier used a sea plane, which the Norwegians had secured from the Maldives.

Its chief negotiator, the London-based Anton Balasingham, had flown directly into, and out of the Iranamadu tank in the Wanni, by passing Sri Lanka's only international airport near Colombo.

Tit for tat is over

The government and the LTTE seem to be pushing aside the issue of the attempt on the life of the Army Commander Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka on April 25, and the subsequent aerial and naval bombardment of LTTE positions in Sampur in Eastern Sri Lanka.

Shocked and politically embarrassed by the LTTE's brazen and near successful attempt to kill the Army chief, the Mahinda Rajapaksa government had to order massive air and naval bombardment of LTTE positions.

Having done that and shored up its image, thus, the government now feels that it can afford to go for talks, which the international community has been constantly pressing for.

The LTTE, on its part, had thoroughly shaken the government, the Sri Lankan polity and military establishment, by its daring penetration of the high security Army HQ complex in the capital city of Colombo.

Presumably, the rebels feel that, having sent a strong message to the Sri Lankan Establishment, it could consider going for talks.

Moreover, like the government, the LTTE is also under international pressure to go for talks.

The LTTE is now banned by Canada. And a ban in the EU may be on the cards.

The US and Canada can take appropriate measures to curb its financing mechanism, by using the UN Convention on Terrorist Funding.

Transport issue

The second round of talks could not be held because of differences over the provision of transport to the LTTE's commanders.

The LTTE had demanded an Air Force chopper citing precedents. But the government said that there was no obligation to give air transport for inter-sector movement of LTTE leaders.

When the LTTE said that it would move its cadres by sea on its own, escorted by its own navy, the government said that this would a violation of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) and that the LTTE's move would be resisted.

To get round the problem, the government offered the use of a naval ship with Scandinavian truce monitors on board for security.

But the LTTE said that it had no faith in the Navy. The government then said that it could arrange a civilian vessel but escorted by the Navy.

But the LTTE said that it did not want the Navy to be anywhere near and aborted the movement in the eleventh hour.

The government then said that it could provide a civilian chopper with truce monitors on board.

But the LTTE said it was too small and risky.

The government then offered a bigger, ten-seater, chopper.

But before it gave a reply, the LTTE sent a suicide bomber into the Army Headquarters in Colombo to kill the Army chief.

Though a failure, the bid sent shock waves through the island.

The beleaguered Rajapaksa government had to flex its muscles to maintain its credibility among Sri Lankans, especially the Sinhala majority.

Air, naval and artillery strikes were ordered against LTTE positions in the Sampur area in the Eastern district of Trincomalee.

The strikes, which were described as "retaliatory" by the government and as "undeclared war" by the LTTE, threatened to wreck the Ceasefire Agreement and signal a return to war.

But the raids stopped in two days.

Tit for tat attacks were over. The issue had been squared up.

International community steps in

By then, the international community, represented by the US, EU, Japan, Norway and India, had stepped in strongly to urge the government and the LTTE to eschew violence and beginning talks.

The Co-chairs of the Tokyo Donors conference, comprising US, EU, Japan and Norway, decided to meet in Oslo on April 28, to see how the slide could be stopped and how the peace process could be carried forward.

President Rajapaksa, on his part, briefed the local representatives of the Co-chairs on Thursday. Separately, he met the Indian High Commissioner.

On Friday, he held an all-party conference to brief the main political actors in the island about the security of the nation and his plans for taking the peace process forward.

First Published: Apr 28, 2006 17:17 IST