Norwegian mediators meet Sri Lankan president to discuss restarting peace talks with Tamil rebels
Sun May 2, 2004 02:35 EDT .
SHIMALI SENANAYAKE - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Norwegian mediators flew to a mountainous resort town Sunday for a key meeting with President Chandrika Kumaratunga to discuss ways to revive stalled peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels. After their arrival in central Sri Lanka - 's cool mountainous region of Nuwara Eliya, the Norwegians had a 30-minute discussion with former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who led the peace process the last two years before leaving for talks with Kumaratunga, officials involved in the process said on condition of anonymity.
The Tigers have insisted they will only resume peace talks if they are recognized as the sole representative of Sri Lanka - 's 3.2 million Tamil ethnic minority and if the negotiations are based on a blueprint for self-rule they have proposed.
Kumaratunga and a Marxist party, her junior coalition partner, have been vociferous critics in the past of the Norwegian-brokered peace process and have rejected the Tigers' proposal for wide autonomy. Kumaratunga was blinded in one eye by a Tiger suicide attack in 1999.
Sunday's meeting at Kumaratunga's holiday bungalow in Nuwara Eliya is to be followed by talks between the Norwegian delegation and the Tigers in the rebel-held town of Kilinochchi on Monday.
Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar also was to participate in Sunday's talks, the officials said.
Kadirgamar has taken a tough stance in the past against the separatist rebels and led a fierce international campaign to get the Tigers banned as a terrorist organization. The rebels remain on terrorist lists in five countries, including the United States and Britain.
Norway helped broker a February 2002 cease-fire between Sri Lanka - 's former government and the Tigers aimed at ending a separatist war that has killed 65,000 people since 1983.
Six rounds of peace talks followed, but the rebels pulled out of negotiations in April last year, saying the government of former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe wasn't allowing them enough autonomy and wasn't doing enough to help thousands of minority ethnic Tamils displaced by the war.
The peace process was further imperiled by a power struggle between Kumaratunga and Wickremesinghe in which the president accused the former prime minister of being too soft on the rebels and alleged that Norway was favoring the guerrillas.
Norway suspended its role as mediator because of the leaders' dispute, but the truce has continued to hold.
Kumaratunga later dissolved Parliament and called elections on April 2 in which she defeated Wickremesinghe's party, but failed to win an outright majority in Parliament.
Despite her past criticism, Kumaratunga telephoned Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik last week and invited his country to help restart peace efforts with the Tigers.
The Tigers say ethnic Tamils face discrimination from the majority Sinhalese.
Published: Sun May 2 05:10:35 EDT 2004