Sri Lanka: Failure for both sides

A second round of negotiations for a peace accord between the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil rebels ended in Geneva without agreement between the two sides, who have been involved in a civil war for over three decades. The talks, convened by the Norwegian government and hosted by Switzerland, were considered a failure by diplomatic sources because the parties in conflict separated without even agreeing a date for a future meeting. Nor was a joint final statement adopted.

The main apparent differences are focused on opening the A9 highway, which the government closed in a move criticised by the rebels, as it is the most direct way of bringing in supplies to the Jaffna peninsula, the embattled stronghold of the separatist group in the north of the country.

Since the first negotiations in Switzerland, in February, the military conflict between the

forces of the Colombo government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has worsened. Peace broker Erik Solheim, the Norwegian minister of international development, said that the outbreaks of violence since then have led to the internal displacement of more than 200,000 people. Between 1,000 and 2,000 people died in those clashes, said Solheim.

The international community was growing impatient at the increased violence and its consequences, Solheim warned the two delegations in Geneva. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, reported to UN human rights bodies for the first time in September on the abuses in Sri Lanka. Arbour’s report was endorsed by statements from human rights institutions and independent experts. Solheim recalled last Sunday that the international community has repeatedly said that it expects the parties to show moderation and live up to their ceasefire commitments, adopted in 2002, and not to launch new military offensives.

The head of the government delegation, Nimal Siripala de Silva, minister of health in Sri Lanka, reaffirmed the will of the regular forces to respect the ceasefire agreed during the first negotiations held in Geneva. In turn, the chief of the political wing of the Tigers, SP Thamilselvan, said that full implementation of the ceasefire and strengthening the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) would normalise people’s lives in the territories in dispute, and would bolster the peace process. The LTTE asked for the reopening of highway A9, but the government refused, said the Norwegian official. De Silva insisted that provisioning by sea transport will be used until the Muhamalai control point on the A9, damaged in the warfare, is repaired. Thamilselvan said he was not satisfied with the government’s explanations for refusing to reopen the A9, and attributed it to a secret military strategy on their part. De Silva said that the LTTE had turned down a proposal for a date for further talks.

The government remains ready and willing to meet at any time in the interest of coming up with a solution, he said. In contrast, Thamilselvan said that the LTTE had accepted setting a date for the next round of talks, but asked that the A9 highway be opened before they take place. In closing, Solheim said that Norway would continue in dialogue with the parties, to discuss every possible idea on how to promote the peace process. — IPS