The Lanka Academic

VOL. 6, NO. 322


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Sri Lanka government, Tamil rebel truce talks off to a rocky start
Shimali Senanayake in CELIGNY, Switzerland, February 22nd 2006. The Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tiger rebels locked-horns immediately after opening talks on Wednesday, breaking a three-year deadlock, as Norwegian peace brokers cautioned against any high expectations at the end of the two-day meeting.

The government in a hard-hitting opening statement called the cease-fire agreement _ that is four years old to the date _ "contrary to our constitution and law."

"It is prejudicial to the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the republic of Sri Lanka," the government's chief negotiator Nimal Siripala de Silva said in his opening remarks.

"We propose to rectify certain grave anomalies arising from the agreement," he said, recording the need for a fresh agreement.

De Silva also highlighted a string of truce violations committed by the LTTE, including child recruitment, human rights violations and killings with spacial mention of the assassination of foreign minister Lakshan Kadirgamar.

The LTTE's chief negotiator Anton Balasingham, rising to respond, rejected government allegations, calling the 5,464 violations by the LTTE "exaggerated figures."

"We cannot accept such exaggerated figures as authentic acts of ceasefire violations," Balasingham, dressed in a three-piece suit told the government team.

He said many of the figures were attributed to child recruitment "without taking into consideration the complex child rights issues in the northeast and the number of children released by the LTTE."

"We do agree that there have been serious breaches of the cease-fire agreement, for which the parties in conflict, as well as the Tamil paramilitaries, should bear culpability," he said.

He however, pointed out there was no point is having a "recriminatory debate," of accusations and counter accusations against each other over the abuses of the truce.

Instead of "engaging in acrimonious bickering that might poison the atmosphere of goodwill, it would be prudent to engage in a constructive discussion, exploring ways and means to stabilise and strengthen the cease-fire agreement," he said, infusing some hope for the two-day talks.

The hard-hitting statements however didn't auger well to push the parties to a flying start.

The situation was worsened when the government found out that the LTTE had released its opening remarks to the press via the pro-rebel TamilNet Web site.

"This is a breach of the agreement we came to, not to release statements to the media before the talks were concluded," a senior government official said. "So will release our statement as well."

The government statement was made available on the peace secretariat Web si te.

Breaking for lunch at mid-day, the government negotiators convened an internal meeting and then telephoned Temple Trees _ via the special communication link set up at the venue _ to inform President Mahinda Rajapakse of the developments after the first three hours of negotiations.

Wednesday's talks coincides with the fourth anniversary of the Norwegian-brokered cease-fire agreement that haul ted a two decades of civil war that had killed nearly 65,000 people.

Before the two warring parties made their opening remarks, Norway's international development minister and peace envy Erik Solheim expressed guarded optimism about the talks, playing down expectations of any breakthroughs.

"What should be achieved is increasing confidence between the parties =85 and agreement for a new meeting," Solheim said at the opening amid a packed room of journalists.

Soon after, the two chief negotiators were edged together by photographers for the customary handshake to mark the opening of the meeting _ the first between the two sides in three years.

Their body language conveyed the gulf that need to be bridged between the parties.

However, Solheim commended the parties for their presence in Switzerland after the island came close to the brink of war in recent weeks.

"There is very little confidence between the two sides =85 but confidence can increase," Solheim said, addressing the parties hopefully, as he noted that most of the negotiators had never met, since the latest talks were under a new administration.

The government and LTTE delegations, dressed in three piece Western suits, walked in separately to a wood-paneled room with large glass windows to take their seats opposite each other.

Both delegations seemed unsure about the seating arrangements and there was a little muffling initially when de Silva attempted to sit on the seats allotted to the LTTE and Balasingham tried to sit on a seat demarcated for the Tigers' advisory team.

In the next 1 =BD days, the government delegation is likely to push for 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, the officials said.

The Tigers are expected to demand reigning down on a breakaway rebel group led by a senior leader of the Tigers, V. Muralitheran, better known as Karuna. The unpresidented breakup in March 2004, has cost the LTTE heavily and they accuse government forces of colluding with the renegade group.

Hours before talks opened, diplomats involved in the process said, negotiations were looking "difficult," but still expressed hope that the parties will at least agree to meet again.

"It's not the words that count but the extent these words are implemented in real life after the talks," Solheim said, "That is the real challenge."

Both delegations arrived at the venue, the Chateau de Bossey, with a break taking view of the Alps and lake Geneva, after haggling for months over the venue. Both sides were confined to the isolated ch=E2teau, surrounded by large fields and vineyards, for at least 36 hours as they prepared for the crucial meeting.

On Wednesday, they moved to a smaller building in the compound to talk at two three hour sessions, before and after lunch.

Security was tight as Swiss police cordoned used metal detectors and frisked journalists forced before allowing them indoors.

Solheim, seated at the head table facilitated the meeting, aided by Norway^s former deputy foreign minister Vidar Helgesen.

The seven-member government delegation was supported by seven other advisors seated right behind them, while the six-member rebel team was also supported by seven advisors.

Norwegian officials said the parties still have not decided how they intend to brief the press at the end of the talks on Thursday.

Previous six rounds of talks under the former administration saw the parties at a common podium. The decision will solely depend on how the talks proceed, the officials said.

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Published: Wed Feb 22 08:49:50 EST 2006

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Ceasefire Agreement is foundation of peace and must be implemented - Balasingham
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Swiss tighten security at talk's venue
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Sri Lanka Peace Talks in Geneva Aim to Boost Cease-Fire Accord, February 21, 2006, 23:00 EDT. Feb. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Sri Lanka's government and Tamil Tiger rebels mark the fourth anniversary of their cease-fire by starting peace talks today, as an upsurge in violence in the south Asian island threatens a return to civil war. Two days of talks in Geneva are being mediated by Norway and Switzerland... Back to the top

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Shimali Senanayake in Geneva, February 21th, 2006, GT 8:00 am. GENEVA The Sri Lankan government will inform the Tamil Tiger rebels of the need for a fresh cease-fire agreement but will not insist on replacing the pact when they meet on Wednesday for the first time in nearly three years to save the island from slipping back to war, officials said... Back to the top

Governments Agenda is for Peace- Bogollagama
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Government negotiator to lobby for Muslim representation at talks with Tamil rebels
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Sri Lankan government, Tamil leaders prepare for two-day peace talks near Geneva
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LTTE may say CFA doesn’t ban child recruitment, February 21. At the talks with the Sri Lankan government at Geneva beginning on Wednesday, the LTTE may argue that child recruitment cannot be taken as a violation of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) because child recruitment is not even mentioned in the CFA! According to a report from Geneva in the leading Tamil daily Sudar Oli on Tuesday, the LTTE is going to point out that Article 1 and 2 of the CFA mention only "abduction" as being a violation... Back to the top

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