LTTE chief to meet peace brokers

Agence France Presse

Colombo, January 15

Hopes for peace rose in Sri Lanka today as the elusive Tamil Tigers chief planned to meet Norwegian peace brokers next week amid tension between the government and the rebels over tsunami aid. Tamil Tigers chief Velupillai Prabhakaran was set to meet Norway’s Foreign Minister Jan Petersen as part of Norway’s first post-tsunami attempt to salvage Sri Lanka’s faltering peace process.

“He is going to meet the Norwegian foreign minister next week,” Puleedevan, head of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) peace secretariat, told AFP in an email. Petersen and top Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim are due here for talks with Sri Lankan leaders as well as the rebels to try to end a 21-month impasse in negotiations. Three days before the December 26 tsunamis, the Tamil Tigers rejected Sri Lanka’s latest proposal to revive negotiations despite international pressure to save the Norwegian-backed initiative.

Meanwhile, a Tamil rebel leader today said the government lost a chance to revive the peace process despite hopes that the state and guerrillas would unite in efforts to recover from the tsunami. SP Thamilselvan, head of the political wing of the ethnic Tamil rebels, said the government had given minimal assistance to rebel-held areas, instead channeling most international assistance to areas under its control. “It has dashed hopes of reconciliation,” Thamilselvan told The Associated Press in an interview at his headquarters in Killinochchi.

The government has denied charges it is preventing aid from reaching rebel areas, which are concentrated in the north and east of the country.

Later today, Thamilselvan met Margareta Wahlstrom, the UN special coordinator for tsunami relief, and the UN coordinator for Sri Lanka, Miguel Bermeo. “At first, we found the signals coming from the south as positive,” Thamilselvan said. Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme’s director will not be allowed to visit rebel-held northern Sri Lanka to tour areas of the island nation devastated by last month’s tsunami, WFP Officials said today. WFP officials said government officials told them that James T Morris’ planned a trip tomorrow to Kilinochchi, controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels, would not be possible. Meanwhile, Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson has cancelled a two-day visit to the country, a government statement said today. Persson was to visit the island on Tuesday and Wednesday next week.