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