TOPICS : No ‘unconditional’ talks with Tigers

The euphoria was short-lived. Last Wednesday, the Sri Lankan government formally shot down hopes for a quick solution to escalating violence on the island by denying statements made by Norwegian mediators that spoke of unconditional talks with Tamil Tiger rebels early in October in Oslo to restore the February 2002 ceasefire. “The government of Sri Lanka is highly disturbed with regard to the statement made by the Norwegian facilitator, as the government neither agreed for unconditional talks nor was consulted. Thus the co-chairs, the international community and the public have been misled,” the government said.

The announcement of talks and its refutation by the government comes amidst warnings by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), of carrying on the war, currently concentrated in Tamil-dominated areas in the north and east to areas inhabited largely by the Sinhalese majority in the south. “I am afraid there is a possibility that this will turn into a full-scale war,” LTTE spokesman SP Tamilselvan said in a statement. “Within the context of the military offensives by the Sri Lankan armed forces and their continuing forced occupations of the Tamil homeland, we do consider that the CFA (ceasefire agreement) has become meaningless,” Tamilselvan was quoted as saying in the pro-LTTE portal TamilNet.com.

“Opportunities for talks will be stronger when the army ends its military attacks,” Tamilselvan, head of the LTTE’s political wing, said. The Norwegian statement issued in Brussels last Tuesday said: “The co-chairs welcome the expression of willingness of the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to come to talks unconditionally. The parties should cease violence immediately. The parties should use this opportunity to show maximum flexibility regarding the arrangements to be proposed by the facilitator.” Immediately afterwards, the EU, US, Japan and Norway, that are the co-chairs of the Tokyo Conference on Reconstruction and Development of Sri Lanka, issued a statement praising the “willingness of the government and the LTTE to come to talks unconditionally.” After capturing the strategic eastern town of Sampur last week, the government announced that it would not push deeper into Tiger areas. During a recent discussion with Norwegian Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Hans Bratskar, Tamilselvan said that the government had violated clauses of the truce agreement. Truce monitors, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), said that even before the fall of Sampur the Tigers had conveyed that they wanted the military to pull back.

According to the SLMM, more than 1,000 people have been killed in Sampur and Muttur towns. UN agencies said that over 230,000 have been forced to flee their homes. The government nevertheless, is unlikely to yield to pressure from the Tigers to withdraw from Sampur. “We are ready for any game. We knew we can do it and we did it,” Capt. S Ranasinghe from the Special Forces of the Sri Lanka army said, last week, in Sampur. — IPS