Sri Lanka government, Tamil Tiger rebels brace to talk tough at truce meet
Shimali Senanayake in Geneva,
February 22nd, 2006, GT 01:00 am.
The Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebel negotiators were set
to take tough positions when they open talks on Wednesday for the
first time in three years aimed at saving the island from sliding back
to civil war.
The two sides were whisked away from their warring terrain in Sri
Lanka to Chateau de Bossey, a secluded castle just outside the Swiss
capital Geneva, to try and iron out differences over a cease-fire,
both sides accuse each other of failing to execute.
Wednesday, also marked four years since the Norwegian-brokered
agreement was signed between former prime minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe and rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.
Norway's International Development Minister and top peace envoy Erik
Solheim will make a statement ahead of facilitating the closed-door
The government planned to set the stage for the meeting with an
opening statement made by its chief negotiator Nimal Siripala de
Silva, officials involved in the talks said on condition of anonymity.
The statement is expected to record the need for a fresh truce
agreement but also say the government was willing to talk on how to
make the existing pact work better, government aides said.
The officials said this was mainly to appease hardliners in President
Mahinda Rajapakse's government whom he promised to rehaul the
Norwegian-brokered peace bid and 2002 truce.
"It would be ideal if it (the cease-fire agreement) could be changed,"
Rohitha Bogollagama, spokesman for the government team told reporters
here late Tuesday. "We have always been of the opinion that the
cease-fire should be amended."
"There is a need to convert it to a meaningful agreement," he said.
The opening statements may draw a heated debate between the two
groups, as the rebels have stressed that talks will be confined to the
"implementation," of the truce.
"The agenda is one line, but there are one thousand matters to
discuss," the rebels' chief negotiator Anton Balasingham said, in
reference to the cease-fire.
The government has been preparing extensively for the two-day talks
and is armed with dossiers of statistics and video material to argue
The government negotiators will push for addendum's to the existing
pact, officials said.
The Colombo team is likely to suggest an appendix to the current
agreement by fleshing out contentious clauses like, disarming of
paramilitary groups and offensive operations against the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE, they said.
The four talks sessions, spread over two days is seen as crucial to
halt a wave of deadly attacks that have reignited war fears in Sri
Lanka. However, the parties are long way off and still remain sharply
divided about a final peace deal to end a two decade civil war that
killed nearly 65,000 people before the Feb. 22 truce agreement.
The process had been deadlocked since the rebels walked out after six
rounds of peace talks in April 2003, demanding wide autonomy in the
north and east.
A rush of chilling attacks attacks have killed nearly 200 people since
December and pushed the island to the brink of war before Solheim
clinched a deal on Jan. 25 for the two sides to resume talks in
Although open to discuss changes to the pact, the government team is
weary not to push too hard and risk the Tigers walking out of their
Ensuring that the two sides will meet again and the process of
dialogue continues will mark as a measurement of sucess for the
two-day meeting, even through both sides don't expect major strides
toward resolving their grievances.
Officials involved in the process expressed hope that the 18th century
castle known to have a soothing effect because it's surrounded by the
Alps and a breah-taking view of lake Geneva, will add to infusing a
positive atmosphere at the talk
The rebels, fighting to carve out a separate state for the 3.2 million
minority Tamils, say they suffer widespread discrimination in
education and jobs at the hands of the 14 million Sinhalese majority.
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Published: Tue Feb 21 18:21:10 EST 2006