Norway says Tamil rebels, Sri Lankan government face deep crisis after talks collapse
Thu June 8, 2006 19:35 EDT .
Associated Press Writer
OSLO, Norway (AP) _ The peace process between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels has plunged into its deepest crisis since the island nation reached a truce in 2002, a Norwegian mediator said, after the two sides failed to hold talks Thursday in Norway.
``Our appeal is very simple, come to the table now. If you do, many lives will be saved,'' Norwegian Aid Minister Erik Solheim said.
Both sides sent delegations to Norway for what was to have been two days of talks on security issues concerning the team of 60 cease-fire monitors from Nordic nations who are deployed on the island.
But in a surprise, the rebels refused to meet directly with government representatives near Oslo, saying they preferred that each side discuss matters separately with the Norwegian mediators.
There appeared to be little chance of salvaging the talks, as the government delegation was preparing to leave Friday.
``The failure of the sides to meet ... shows we are in the deepest crisis in the peace process,'' Solheim said, urging the two sides to concentrate on ``important issues, the increasing violence.''
Solheim said the Tigers had also demanded that members of the international monitoring team from Sweden, Denmark and Finland _ all members of the European Union _ be excluded from the mission because the EU lists the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist group.
``We asked them to reconsider,'' Solheim told reporters, adding that monitors represent the international mission, not their individual countries. The other members of the observer mission come from Norway and Iceland.
Excluding monitors from EU members would sharply reduce their number and require months to recruit others, Solheim said.
Norway, which mediated the 2002 cease-fire to end 19 years of armed conflict, had called the talks to deal with security concerns of the observer mission amid increasing violence, which has killed at least 375 people since April.
It was hoped that the meeting in Norway could give new impetus to formal peace negotiations. Those talks were last held in Geneva in February. A second round slated for April was canceled after the new violence.
Solheim said most of the responsibility for the collapse of this week's talks lay with the rebels. He said they came knowing that the meetings were to include face-to-face discussions between the two sides.
The five-member Sri Lanka government delegation was led by peace secretariat chief Palitha Kohona, while the rebel delegation was headed by S.P. Tamilselvan, the Tamil rebels' political chief.
Tamilselvan said he had wanted to use the talks to discuss with the Norwegians the issue of the monitors and the EU's listing his group as terrorists.
``Discussions ... at this crucial juncture would be productive when the delegations raise the issues separately with the Norwegian facilitators,'' he said in a statement posted on the pro-Tiger Tamilnet Web site.
Sri Lanka's civil war between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam began in 1983, and claimed more than 65,000 lives before the 2002 cease-fire.
But violence has marred the truce, including clashes Thursday in which the rebels were suspected of killing two government officers and wounding a soldier in separate attacks with anti-personnel mines.
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Published: Thu Jun 8 22:12:03 EDT 2006