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Sri Lanka-LTTE talks likely in October

Both sides say they are eager to negotiate, albeit under some stringent conditions, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Sep 14, 2006 17:46 IST
PK Balachandran
PK Balachandran

Despite the tough demands of the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, and the hiccup in Colombo over the Norwegian announcement of "unconditional" talks in the first week of October at Oslo, political observersin Colomboexpect that at least one round of talks will take place sometime in October.

International pressure on the two parties and exhaustion after several weeks of non-stop and intense fighting in the North and East, have combined to make a pause imperative.

In fact, both sides have said that they are eager to engage in talks, albeit under some stringent conditions.

The Secretary General of the Government Peace Secretariat, Dr Palitha Kohona, told Hindustan Times on Thursday, that the chances of talks commencing were "good".

He said that discussions on the date and venue were going on between the government of Sri Lanka and Facilitator Norway.

But the expectation here is that when the two sides do meet, they will, in
all probability, state their positions and demands, make accusations and charges against each other, and break up.

This is because, between now and the talks, little or no change is expected to take place on the ground here.

Government's demand

The government has demanded that the Co-Chairs of the Tokyo Aid Sri Lanka Conference (who are the international community in the Sri Lankan peace process) and the peace Facilitator, Norway, to "put in place a practical mechanism to prevent the illegal procurement of arms and an effective blockade to the induction of weapons by the LTTE."

"This is an essential element to ensure a successful progression towards a political settlement," it said.

This demand is a tall order for the international community, though by banning the LTTE, the US, EU, UK, and Canada are duty bound to oblige the Sri Lankan government in this matter.

The Sri Lankan radical nationalist parties and the English and Sinhala media would be keeping a watchful eye on this, and would hammer the international community if it dragged its feet in this matter.

The Mahinda Rajapaksa government would be under pressure to take a tough posture in that case.

LTTE's point of view

Looking at it from the point of view of the LTTE, this outfit will do what it has always done when it comes under pressure - quit the negotiating table and resume war or terrorism after accusing the international community of not giving the two sides a level playing field.

As before, the LTTE will point out that while the world allows Colombo to beef up its military through fresh acquisitions, it is not allowed the same facility.

The LTTE is forever clamouring for parity, equality and a level playing field, which the international community and Sri Lankan governments have been loathe to give it.

The LTTE's political commissar, SP Tamilselvan, told Tamilnet in an interview on Thursday, that the Sri Lankan government must "create a conducive environment by respecting the lines of territorial demarcation underpinning the CFA (the Ceasefire Agreement of February 2002) so that the peace process can move forward."

What the LTTE is asking is the withdrawal of government troops from the areas captured since the Mavil Aaru operations in late July, including Sampur, which dominates the strategic Trincomalee harbour.

But no government of Sri Lankan can oblige the LTTE in this matter, as yielding on this issue will sound its death knell.

Karuna issue

There are other ticklish issues the LTTE will raise, and the most important among these will be the Karuna issue.

As before, the LTTE will demand that the Sri Lankan government disarm the Karuna group as per the promise it gave at the Geneva talks in February 2006.

But the Sri Lankan government can ill-afford to that for both political and military reasons.

Despite denials, the Karuna group and the Sri Lankan armed forces are believed to be working in tandem to the detriment of the LTTE in the Eastern districts of Batticaloa and Amparai.

Issue of access to Jaffna

While in the run-up to the first round of talks, it is possible that there will be no ground, air or sea offensives, conflicts over several issues will continue to rage.

One of the most important of these is access to the beleaguered and starving Jaffna peninsula, where a population of over 200,000 civilians and a Sri Lankan security forces garrison of over 40,000 men live.

Supplies are running awfully short because of the war in the Muhamalai sector in the North, the sealing of the northern sector of the A9 highway, and the risk involved in using the air or the sea routes.

Although about 5,400 metric tones of food and other essentials had reached Jaffna in recent days, severe shortages will arise if fresh supplies do not come in the weeks ahead.

The LTTE has said that it will not allow Sri Lankan vessels to use the sea because the Ceasefire Agreement has not differentiated areas controlled by the government from the areas controlled but it.

While the CFA had demarcated these areas on land, it had not done so in the sea, as it was then agreed that the sea was the exclusive preserve of the Sri Lankan state. While banning the use of the sea, the LTTE offered to open the land route or the A9 highway, which passes through land held by it.

But the government is not keen on taking the offer of the land route because of the fear that the LTTE may hijack a part of the supplies or illegally tax the consignments en route.

The government insists that it must be able to exercise its sovereign right to use the sea.

However, it remains a fact that Sri Lankan vessels are constrained to get the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to escort them in their journeys to Jaffna and back.

And the ICRC does not provide an escort unless both the government and the LTTE assure safety.

The government did send one ship carrying food and another one carrying stranded civilians, without ICRC escort, but it may be too risky to repeat this.

First Published: Sep 14, 2006 17:46 IST