Top Norwegian peace broker arrives amid efforts to save Sri Lanka from plunging back to war
January 23rd, 2006, 7:00 am SLT.
Norway's top peace broker arrived in Sri Lanka on Monday, for crucial talks with the government and the Tamil Tiger rebels aimed at halting weeks of deadly violence and an imminent outbreak of war.
Norway's development minister Erik Solheim, will try to break a deadlock between the parties on where to hold the first face-to-face meeting between the two sides in nearly three years.
President Mahinda Rajapakse has already informed the peace brokers that the government is willing to hold talks in "any destination," other than the Norwegian capital Oslo.
The government earlier conveyed its flexibility over a venue for talks by agreeing to move out of Sri Lanka to an Asian destination. But the rebels have continued to stick to their guns and insisted that any meeting had to take place in Oslo.
Colombo now hopes that the Tigers will be agreeable to any other European destination with the exception of Oslo and the 25 European Union nations where there's a travel restriction on the rebels.
The government also hopes that Solheim will be able to impress upon the rebels the need to end the surge of violence that has killed more than 100 people in seven weeks, mostly security forces in deadly claymore mine attacks. The Tigers have consistently denied involvement.
Solheim is scheduled to hold talks with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera later Monday, ahead of a meeting with President Mahinda Rajapakse on Tuesday.
He will meet LTTE supreme Velupillai Prabhakaran for a decisive meeting on Wednesday, in the rebel-capital of Kilinochchi.
The rebels' chief negotiator Anton Balasingham arrived in the island just hours before Solheim, and spent about three hours in a hotel close to the air port before being whisked to Kilinochchi in a Sri Lankan air force helicopter, along with his Australian-born wife Adele. Representatives of Norwegian embassy, truce monitors and the government's peace secretariat accompanied the couple for security assurances amid fears of rebel attacks on the air craft's return.
The main objective of his visit is to play a vital role during talks between Solheim and Prabhakaran, whom he's set to meet later Monday for closed-door sessions.
Balasingham's input is expected to infuse some moderation into the Tigers stand and push for the revival of negotiations with the Sri Lankan government.
U.S. State Department No: 3 Nicholas Burns, who arrived in the island on Sunday is also expected to press the parties for an early resumption of talks.
The Tamil Tigers began fighting in 1983 to carve out an independent homeland for the island's 3.2 million Tamil minority, who claim discrimination by the majority Sinhalese. The fighting killed nearly 65,000 before Norway brokered a cease-fire in February 2002. But subsequent peace talks collapsed in April 2003 amid rebel demands for wide autonomy in the Tamil-dominated north and east. Despite international pressure, efforts to revive the talks have failed, and the unprecedented violence in recent weeks has prompted European truce monitors to warn that an outbreak of war was not far off.
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Published: Sun Jan 22 22:49:57 EST 2006