9th January 2000

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Peace broker's visit delayed

By Shelani de Silva

A proposed visit to Sri Lanka by Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek who has offered to broker a peace deal has been delayed, but the government is prepared to discuss the modalities for peace talks with the minister on his arrival.

P A General Secretary D M Jayaratne told The Sunday Times that the Government did not invite the diplomat but was willing to discuss the issue.

'The Foreign Minister will be visiting Sri Lanka on his own accord, We did not invite him. It is difficult to say how Norway would help us but we want to discuss the issue. Norway has proved to be a peace broker on many occasions and we have confidence in their government' said minister Jayaratne.

The minister added that the Government was willing to enter into peace talks but the LTTE has to agree to a cease-fire.

'There is information that the LTTE has shown interest in starting talks from where the Thimpu talks ended. This idea was conveyed by several Tamil parties .The Government has not given a definite word but we reiterate that there has to be a cease-fire,' he said.

Meanwhile The Sunday Times learns that the Norwegian Foreign Minister, scheduled to visit Sri Lanka next week to initiate the peace deal between the Government and the LTTE has called off his visit due to Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamr being away in Europe.

The Norwegian Foreign Minister who planned a two day visit was expected on January 16.

He began his tour from Portugal and was scheduled to visit Thailand, Nepal, Bhutan and India.

The Norway Government is yet to reconfirm the new dates for his visit to Sri Lanka.

Next week's visit would have been the first visit to Sri Lanka.The0 visit would have been significant following last week's bomb attack in Colombo.

The Sunday Times learns that the Norwegian Government had discussions with Anton Balasingham

The Foreign Minister called off his visit stating that it was important that his counterpart was present at such meetings. Minister Kadirgamar who is in Europe is expected in the island later in the week.

Meanwhile Norway's' Deputy Foreign Minister Wegger Stroemman last week said that his Government had a shuttle between the Government and the LTTE. He said that the shuttle was to sound out the conditions for starting peace talks.

Last week Buddhist and Catholic prelates came forward to act as mediators in the Governments peace initiatives with the LTTE.

Following President Kumaratunga's peace offer to join with the UNP to seek a peaceful settlement with the LTTE the religious groups while extending its support had decided to act as a messenger.

The groups even planned to write to the LTTE to get an appointment with it.

Church stands for devolution

The Catholic Church has declared that it is against separation of the country, but would encourage devolution of power specially to address the problems of the people in the North and East.

Bishop Malcom Ranjith, Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops Conference told The Sunday Times that the Church while calling for negotiations supports the concept of the devolution of power

'The extent of devolution should be taken by the politicians', the Bishop said.

'It should address the people who are suffering in the North and East. There should not be any politics involved. A vast number of people be they Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim are suffering' he said.

The Bishops Conference has appealed to the Government and the LTTE that peace cannot be achieved through a military solution, he said.

'Militarily we will be killing each other and the country will be brought into more destruction. It is time that both parties come forward to commence talks. The Government has shown signs of peace talks and the LTTE too should take the initiative and come forward giving up arms' he said.

The Bishops Conference has reiterated its stand and called on the Government to seek third party mediation at the next peace talks.

'It is important that the mediation party has an independent attitude and guarantees peace. The party should be sincere and act in the interests of the people, without any economic or political gain in view'.

While calling on religious leaders to act as messengers to any peace deal, the Catholic Church strongly states that it does not encourage any violence but is only interested in bringing forth a peaceful solution for the vast number of people who are victims.

T'Nadu beefs up security to face LTTE threat

Security in the state of Tamil Nadu has been heightened in view of possible threats from the LTTE, an Indian news report said.

The states selected for heightened security are Tamil Nadu, Jammu - Kashmir and Bihar.

"While Tamil Nadu continues to suffer from high risks due to threats from the LTTE, the Jammu and Kashmir Government has been warned against surprise attacks from the ISI agents including the Harkut-ul-Mujahideen mercenaries," the Hindustan Times said.

Incidentally the beefing up of security is also timed prior to the Republic Day celebrations. "In a related development, the Centre today issued an extraordinary advisory to all the State and UT Governments regarding the ISI's designs to engineer large scale violence in view of the forthcoming Republic Day celebrations," the Hindustan Times reported.

Following the Indian Airlines hijacking late last month the security of select VVIPs, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Union Home Minister L.K. Advani have been strengthened along with security in three states of India, the Indian daily reported.

Who showed the coughs and shuffle on TV?

An internal inquiry is expected to be launched to find out how President Kumaratunga's controversial 3 1/2 hour interview was carried unedited on state television , informed sources said.

They said the pre-recorded interview should have been edited and remarks about switching off fans, shuffling of papers, bringing files and about doctor's advice about sneezing and coughing could have been edited.

Cabinet changes by splitting ministries

By Shelani de Silva

The Government is likely to split ministries to provide portfolios to new ministers at a Cabinet reshuffle likely within the next few weeks, PA General Secretary D. M. Jayaratne told The Sunday Times.

There is a possibility that at least eight ministries will be split to accommodate the new members.

Minister Jayaratne said the decision to split the ministries would be taken after assessing the progress reports to be handed over by each minister.

He said apart from this, new ministries would also be created.

"There probably won't be any major changes in removing key ministers but new faces would probably be added," he said.

However he discounted the possibility of giving portfolios to leaders of Tamil parties saying those parties were known to prefer to maintain their identity.

"The Government did not offer a portfolio to any Tamil leader but we have had discussions on the matter. The views expressed by them indicate that they prefer to work along with the Government, bringing the Tamil people closer to the Government. But they want to have an independent stand. They feel that by accepting a portfolio they will not be able to carry out their work," he said.

There has been strong speculation that EPDP leader, Douglas Devananda is to be offered a cabinet portfolio.


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