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LTTE move puts talks in limbo

The second round of resumed peace talks between the LTTE and the government scheduled for next week in Geneva was thrown into further limbo yesterday with the Tigers saying their presence was in doubt until they are able to meet their eastern military leaders while accusing the navy of interfering in their movements.

The LTTE accused the Scandinavian truce monitors of supporting the government’s fresh condition that the Sri Lanka Navy would escort the civilian ferry that was to carry 32 LTTE eastern military leaders to Kilinochchi for a central committee meeting ahead of the talks.

The Tigers insisted that the Kilinochchi meeting was mandatory if the LTTE were to attend Geneva II. So much so, the second round of talks set for April 19-21 was put off to 24-25 on an LTTE pushed postponement.

"These excessive interference by the Sri Lankan Navy in the sea transport of our commanders, in total contradiction to the prior agreement with you, have made us lose faith in the promises made by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission," LTTE political wing chief S. P. Thamilselvan said in a letter to SLMM chief Ulf Henricsson, hours after the Tigers abandoned their move to visit Kilinochchi via sea.

The monitors said the Tigers had already agreed that Navy Dvora could monitor the civilian ferry carrying their cadres. But Government Peace Secretariat chief Dr. Palitha Kohona told The Sunday Times that monitors had objected to the presence of armed LTTE cadres in three boats which were to accompany the main vessel, saying it violated the agreements made through the Scandinavian monitors previously. He said that 32 LTTE cadres were ready to be taken from Mullaitivu to Vakarai in Batticaloa in a vessel provided by the government when the three boats were spotted with armed cadres on board. The arrangement had been that the Sri Lanka Navy would escort the vessel from a distance.

The civilian vessel – ‘Seruvila II’ was to transport the Batticaloa and Trincomalee military wing leaders including Bhanu and Sornam for the consultations.

Prior to yesterday’s planned movement, the government had spelt out a set of terms and conditions to the LTTE through the SLMM. They included that the LTTE commanders should be clad in civilian clothing and unarmed and Sri Lanka Navy would escort the vessel.

The government in talks with Norway’s peace envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer and Norwegian ambassador Hans Brattskar also discussed the presence of navy fast attack craft about five kilometres off the shore to monitor the ferry.However, yesterday morning, minutes before the Tiger sea journey was to take place Mr. Henricsson noticed three armed LTTE vessels approaching the ferry and took objection.

The movement was forthwith abandoned with the Tigers threatening if the meeting with the commanders did not take place, there would be no Geneva II.

"We wish to emphasize that today’s (Saturday’s) incident has put into question our decision and subsequent efforts to go to Geneva and that the actions of the GoSL and Sri Lankan military are the reason for this unfortunate situation," Mr. Thamilselvan said in his letter.

The government yesterday denied navy interference and the imposition of any new conditions. "We have literally bent-over backward to facilitate the LTTE travel despite the claymore mine explosions, attacks on civilians and repeated provocations," Mr. Kohona told The Sunday Times.

He said the latest developments "cast serious doubt on the LTTE’s sincerity to go to Geneva," but stressed the government was still willing and committed to meet at the negotiating table.

"Despite all this provocation, we are totally committed to hold talks in Geneva. We will go. It’s up to the LTTE to show up." Mr. Thamilselvan in his letter to Mr. Henricsson claimed that the navy had imposed two new conditions regarding the sea transport and attempted to ‘interfere’ in the journey.

He claimed that one of the conditions was that the LTTE ‘commanders’ should not reach the main vessel using their own boats, but using civilian boats arranged by the SLMM. The other rule was that the main vessel arranged by the SLMM was to be treated as an LTTE vessel and the Sri Lankan Navy must escort it.

"The parties by engaging in unnecessary political quarrels over unimportant technical arrangements are gradually painting themselves into a corner," said SLMM spokesperson Helen Olofsdottier.

"Stubbornness from both sides can lead to a breakdown in talks which can then only lead to escalation in violence." "What is it going to take for the parties to get their act together? They have lost sight of the real issue and they are not acting at the moment in the best interest of the people," Ms. Olofsdottier said.

In a series of violence last week, nearly 50 security forces personnel and civilians were killed, prompting the international community to raise concern and urge both the government and the LTTE to exercise restraint.

Government peace delegation chief Nimal Siripala de Silva told The Sunday Times the government had proposed to take up issues related to democracy, human rights and development activities at the next round of peace talks.-Sunday Times-By Chris Kamalendran and Shimali Senanayake

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April 16, 2006 - Posted by | South Asia, World News

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