LTTE puts autonomy struggle on hold

Norwegian FM meets Prabhakaran

• Joint body to distribute aid in Tiger areas

Agence France Presse

Kilinochchi, January 22:

Tamil Tiger rebels today announced they were putting on hold their struggle for greater autonomy for the Tamil minority in order to deal with the aftermath of the tsunami disaster.

“The political struggle will continue but we need to put that away now,” said Anton Balasingham, the London-based chief negotiator of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

“The struggle will be there but now we are concentrating on the disaster,” Balasingham said after the LTTE’s leader Velupillai Prabhakaran held talks here with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen.

Prabhakaran had announced in November that his LTTE might resume its “freedom struggle” unless Colombo agreed to end the impasse in peace talks, stalled since April 2003.

Today’s talks in the LTTE capital Kilinochchi had focused mainly on the plight of tens of thousands of people displaced by the tsunami in areas of the island controlled by the rebels, Balasingham said.

“They (Norwegians) want a mechanism to get aid to people in the north. We would now want the peace secretariats (government and rebels) to formulate a mechanism to get aid to the people in the north,” he said. “The Norwegians want to ensure aid reaches people without bureaucracy and corruption.” Petersen, speaking earlier to the media, also said the focus of the talks had been the aftermath of the tsunami, which ravaged three-quarters of Sri Lanka’s coastline and killed more than 30,000 people. “We discussed the victims of the tsunami,” Petersen said. “The LTTE areas have been very badly affected and we would like to coordinate the aid.” Dispelling persistent rumours that the Tiger supremo had been washed away in the tsunami, Petersen said: “I met with him. Obviously he is alive”.

Petersen said he had also discussed the issue of aid distribution with President Chandrika Kumaratunga when they met in Colombo yesterday.