Tigers seek security guarantees to attend Swiss talks
Tamil Tiger rebels on Thursday demanded guarantees of safe passage through Sri Lanka's only international airport to attend Swiss talks next month on saving their troubled ceasefire.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said they will attend talks in Switzerland, tentatively set for April 19 to 21, only if peace broker Norway and the Colombo government assure their safety.
The LTTE's London-based chief peace negotiator Anton Balasingham made the demand during talks in London on Wednesday with Norway's International Development Minister Erik Solheim, the pro-rebel Tamilnet website said.
Solheim at the meeting urged the government and Tamil rebels to keep pledges made when they met last month in the Swiss village of Celigny to scale down attacks against each other.
"Mr Solheim assured that he will convey the security concerns of the LTTE leadership when he meets President (Mahinda) Rajapaksa in Colombo next week, on 6 April," Tamilnet quoted Balasingham as saying.
Scandinavians monitoring a truce in place since February 2002 warned this week that the country could slip back to full scale war amid renewed clashes.
The warning came after a mid-sea clash in which suspected Tiger rebels blew up a trawler together with six of their own as a navy gunboat approached them on Saturday, sinking both vessels and killing eight sailors.
Sri Lanka's government Wednesday pledged to continue talks with the rebels despite the killings and said it would go ahead with planned negotiations next month.
During their two-hour discussion, Balasingham also complained of "violent activities of the Tamil paramilitaries."
The Tigers want Colombo to disarm other Tamil militant groups, including a breakaway faction of the Tamil Tigers. The LTTE accuses Colombo of supporting its rivals to stage attacks against them.
"The agenda for the second round of talks will be definitely about disarming the Tamil paramilitaries if the government fails to take action to contain them as pledged during the first session of Geneva talks," Balasingham said.
Norway on Wednesday announced a visit by its new peace envoy to Sri Lanka to meet with local leaders to prepare for the proposed Swiss talks.
Jon Hanssen-Bauer will start a visit to the island from April 3, three days before another visit by Solheim, the Norwegian embassy said.
On his first visit, lasting four days, Hanssen-Bauer will have talks with President Rajapakse as well as with leaders of the LTTE in the rebel-held town of Kilinochchi.
The LTTE rebels have been fighting for autonomy in the northeast of the island for more than 30 years, in a conflict that has claimed at least 60,000 lives since 1972.