LTTE rejects Colombo airport as venue for talks

Colombo, September 8:

Sri Lanka’s peace process suffered a fresh blow today when Tamil Tiger rebels rejected the Colombo airport as a location for crucial talks to prevent the collapse of a fragile ceasefire.

The airport “cannot be a venue for meaningful political discussions and the argument that it is secure for LTTE as a transit point to a location outside Sri Lanka, does not hold,” SP Thamilselvan was quoted as saying on a rebel Web site. The rebels disclosed their position during a meeting with Norwegian truce-monitors and peace brokers.

Hagrup Haukland, who heads a team of Norwegian truce-monitors, and Oddvar Laegreid, a senior diplomat from Norway’s embassy in Colombo, yesterday left for the rebel stronghold town of Kilinochchi and discussed the proposed ceasefire talks and security issues.

The government has insisted that any talks with the rebels must be held in Sri Lanka, and has rejected a rebel proposal to meet in Kilinochchi. The rebels, citing security reasons, also suggested Oslo as a venue, but the government said the Tamil Tigers would use any foreign venue to further their separatist campaign. Norway suggested yesterday that talks be held at Sri Lanka’s international airport.

The government quickly accepted the airport as a possible venue, but Thamilselvan said it was “totally unacceptable.” He had also raised concerns about hard-line nationalist political parties allying themselves with Sri Lanka’s ruling party candidate in the upcoming presidential election, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse. Meanwhile, Rajapakse today signed a deal with the main Marxist party under which he agreed to drop plans to share power with Tiger rebels, but said he hoped the move would not lead to a resumption of war.

Rajapakse, who is the ruling party’s candidate for the presidency, inked the pre-election accord with the JVP, or People’s Liberation Front, agreeing to drop federalism, re-draft a truce and stop privatisation. His stand is in sharp contrast to that of President Chandrika Kumaratunga who had agreed to work towards devolving powers to minority Tamils under a federal system.