Sri Lanka president pushes for peace talks as violence mounts
Shimali Senanayake in Colombo,
January 24th, 2006, 8:00 pm.
Three people were shot dead on Tuesday, even as Sri Lanka's president
showed flexibility on a venue and pushed for early peace talks with
Tamil Tiger rebels to avert a return to civil war.
President Mahinda Rajapakse held one-on-one talks with peace envoy
Erik Solheim for over an hour, officials involved in the peace process
said on condition of anonymity.
Rajapakse had indicated that he was willing to move away from his
earlier insistence of talks in an Asian destination, the officials
said. The government was now willing to hold talks even in Europe
other than the Norwegian capital of Oslo, and the European Union
nations in which the rebels have been slapped with travel
restrictions, they said.
"The venue is not the most important issue here. It's getting the
talks started," Nimal Siripala de Silva, Cabinet spokesman said on
Tuesday. "We can be flexible, now it's up to the LTTE."
However, the rebels have continued to insist that face-to-face talks
with the Sri Lankan government cannot take place anywhere else other
Norway, which has been pushing for a compromise has said they are
willing to facilitate talks "even on the moon."
"The key issue is not the venue, but what they discuss when they
meet," Solheim told the Foreign Correspondents' Association on Monday.
But the parties have been haggling over the venue for months and any
consensus will be seen as a positive move toward peace.
Meanwhile, violence in Sri Lanka's north and east continued unabated.
A provincial reporter for the Tamil language newspaper Sudar Oli was
shot dead on his way to work by unknown gunmen, in Sri Lanka's restive
port-town of Trincomalee. Hours later two men were gunned down in
separate incidents in the north and east.
All three men belonged to Sri Lanka's 3.2 Tamil ethnic minority.
Police said the assailants in all three incidents had fled the scene
but investigations were continuing.
Solheim is set to hold crucial talks with Tamil Tiger supremo
Velupillai Prabhakaran on Wednesday, in the rebel-capital Kilinochchi.
The rebels chief negotiator Anton Balasingham, who arrived from his
London home to Kilinochchi for the meeting said, "These talks will
decide the future of the peace process."
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Published: Tue Jan 24 10:12:24 EST 2006