Prabhakaran okays talks in Geneva
The Norwegian Peace Envoy, Erik Solheim, broke the deadlock in the Sri Lankan peace process on Wednesday, when the LTTE agreed to hold talks with the Sri Lankan government in Geneva in mid-February.
The Sri Lankan government had already agreed to the Norwegian proposal to have the first round of talks in Geneva in February.
The rebel group's chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran, conveyed his consent to Solheim when the latter met him in Kilinochchi in North Sri Lanka on Wednesday morning.
Briefing news persons on the meeting, the LTTE's chief negotiator and spokesman, Anton Balasingham, said that the talks in Geneva would be restricted to the "smooth implementation" of the February 2002 Ceasefire Agreement, which had come under severe strain lately.
"Talks on other matters can take place only after complete cessation of the Sri Lankan military's violent repression of the population in the government-controlled areas of the North East," Balasingham said.
The Geneva talks were expected to be held in mid-February, he added.
The modalities of the talks would have to be worked out by Colombo and the LTTE with the assistance of the Norwegians, Balasingham said.
Erik Solheim said that both parties had taken a "constructive step".
The issue of venue was a stumbling block for the resumption of talks which were broken in April 2003. While the LTTE wanted the talks to be held only in Oslo, the Sri Lankan government rejected it and insisted that they be held in Japan or South Africa.
The venue had become a major political issue in South Sri Lanka, with the government wanting to distance itself from Norway, the European Union and the West, and the LTTE wanting to be in touch with them.
Geneva was suggested as a compromise apparently because that city is historically recognised as a neutral place.
The decision to begin talks, even if only on maintaining the CFA, will be welcomed throughout Sri Lanka because the country has been on the edge of war for quite some weeks now.
The Norwegian peace maker Solheim had on Tuesday described the current situation, with daily killings, as being "just short of all out war".
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