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Will elusive LTTE chief meet Solheim?

A meeting of the two is slated for Jan 25, but there is no guarantee it will take place, writes PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Jan 21, 2006 11:47 IST

The Norwegian Minister for International Development, Erik Solheim, who looks after the peace process in Sri Lanka also, is hoping to meet the elusive LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran when he visits the island in the last week of January.

A meeting of the two is slated for January 25 at the LTTE's political headquarters in Kilinochchi, but there is no guarantee that it will take place.

This is because the Tiger chieftain is known to be wary of meeting foreign dignitaries and has, in the past, opted out at the last moment.

The Norwegians are keen on the Solheim-Prabhakaran meeting this time round because it will help them sort out many critical matters at the highest level in the LTTE.

The ceasefire agreement and the peace process are now hanging by a thin thread, and a lot of work has to be done to prevent them from collapsing.

So far, the Norwegians have been having easy access to the highest level in the Sri Lankan government in Colombo, but not to the highest level in the LTTE.

The Norwegians hope that Solheim will be able to see Prabhakaran this time round because he is the Minister of Overseas Development in his country and not a peace envoy as he was before, shuttling relentlessly between Oslo, Colombo and London.

Political circles in Colombo say that Prabhakaran may show reluctance to meet Solheim in the absence of his political advisor cum interpreter, Anton Balasingham.

Balasingham lives in London and is ailing too. His coming to Kilinochchi poses great logistic and security problems for the Sri Lankan government, the LTTE and the Norwegians.

Significance of visit

Solheim's visit to Sri Lanka, which begins on January 23, will be the first since Mahinda Rajapaksa became President in November 2005.

Much significance is attached to the visit, since both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE are expecting him to support their partisan stands on the peace process and the issue of the venue of the talks on the ceasefire agreement.

But the Norwegians are cautioning Sri Lankans against having high expectations because the issues are complicated, and the positions of the two sides seem to be entrenched.

According to them, Solheim will be here mainly to hear out the Sri Lankan government, the political parties and the LTTE on the various issues related to the peace process and the ceasefire agreement, and to see how the process can be kickstarted and carried forward even if only in a limited way.

The Norwegians believe that the current tense situation can be eased only if talks begin, and the two sides come face to face, state their case, and look for areas of agreement.

(PK Balachandran is Special Correspondent of Hindustan Times in Sri Lanka)

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First Published: Jan 11, 2006 18:45 IST