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Swiss offer helped break deadlock in Sri Lanka

Switzerland had helped break the deadlock over the venue of talks by offering to host them in Geneva, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Jan 27, 2006 11:19 IST
PK Balachandran
PK Balachandran

Switzerland had helped break the deadlock over the venue of the first round of talks between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE by offering to host them in Geneva.

"This offer was made in the framework of the Swiss commitment to support peace, human rights and development in Sri Lanka," said a statement from the Swiss Department of Federal Affairs issued in Berne on Wednesday.

"Switzerland supports the peace process under Norwegian facilitation. Therefore, it has declared itself ready that talks between the conflict parties can take place in Switzerland."

"Switzerland is ready to provide Norway with its utmost support and hopes that the talks can get underway as soon as possible," the statement said.

Thanks to the efforts of the Norwegian Peace Envoy, Erik Solheim, the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE had on Wednesday agreed to hold talks in Geneva in mid-February thus breaking a two and a half month stand off on the issue of the venue.

US welcomes talks

The US State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said in Washington on Wednesday that the decision to go for talks was a "positive development".

While praising the Sri Lankan government for showing "restraint in the face of recent provocative actions (by the LTTE)," MacCormarck said that this long conflict would end when the LTTE and the government of Sri Lanka resumed negotiations and the LTTE was convinced to stop using violence and acts of terror as political weapons.

Giving full support to Norway’s facilitation, MacCormack said: " We commend Special Envoy Erik Solheim for his effort to advance this positive development and fully support Norway’s facilitation of the peace process."

India happy

India is also happy with the development in Sri Lanka. Speaking at the Republic Day function in Colombo on Thursday, the Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Nirupama Rao, said that the agreement to resume talks augured well for the future of Sri Lanka.

India, she said, wanted the conflict in Sri Lanka to be resolved through peaceful negotiations, in a way which satisfied all communities. There was no place for violence, she added.

The Sri Lankan government spokesman, Nimal Sripala de Silva, immediately welcomed the LTTE's decision to resume talks, and said that priority would be given to stopping the current orgy of killings in the North and the East. An end to the killings would set the stage for political talks, he added.

LTTE announces talks team

The LTTE has already announced its team for the Geneva talks. The announcement, made in Kilinochchi, said that the team would be led by Chief Negotiator, Anton Balasingham, and would include the Political Wing leader, SP Tamilselvan; the Batticaloa District Political leader, Ilanthirayan alias Marshall; the LTTE's police chief, B Nadesan; military commander Col Jeyam; and Adele Balasingham, political aide to Anton Balasingham.

International pressure made the difference

It was consistent international pressure which finally broke the deadlock over the venue of the first round of talks.

The "international community", comprising the United States, European Union, Japan and India, apart from peace broker Norway, had been consistently pressing the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to go back to the negotiating table and stop the violence in the troubled North Eastern part of the island.

While the LTTE was strongly condemned for wantonly attacking the Sri Lankan armed forces, the Sri Lankan government was ticked off for failing to rein in the Tamil paramilitary groups as per Art 1.8 of the February 2002 Ceasefire Agreement.

But it was the LTTE which got the severest raps. While the Sri Lankan government was always praised for showing restraint in the face of the LTTE's increasingly provocative actions, the LTTE was described by US Under Secretary of State, Nicholas Burns, as a "reprehensible group" pushing Sri Lanka to the brink of war.

Burns also warned the LTTE that neither the US nor any other country would have any relations with it if it did not eschew violence as a means to achieve its ends.

Earlier, the US Ambassador in Sri Lanka, Jeffrey Lunstead, had warned that the US would make the Sri Lankan armed forces so strong that the LTTE would find the cost of resume war "high".

Given the Sri Lankan government's and the LTTE's dependence on foreign support (either material or political or both) to resolve the conflict, the international community had warned many times that world interest in the Sri Lankan conflict would wane if the two parties continued to fight. The threat was to let the Sri Lankans stew in their own juice.

This warning was especially aimed at the Sri Lankan government which,in the international community's view, had got into the habit of expecting outsiders to secure peace or pull its chestnuts out of the fire, without itself making adequate efforts.

First Published: Jan 27, 2006 11:19 IST