5th November 2000
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Mixed reactions to peace moves

By Shelani de Silva. 
Organisations and political parties have come out with mixed reactions on the visit by Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim to the north and plans to revive peace talks.

The Norwegian delegation headed by peace envoy Erik Solheim at talks with LTTE leader V.PrabhakaranA cross section of the comments:

The National Joint Committee consisting of more than forty Buddhist organisations have strongly protested over Norwegian facilitation in the peace process.

The NJC which carried out several protests during the initial stages of peace talks has once again aired its protest.

Secretary of the NJC Dr. Piyasena Dissanayake told The Sunday Times that although the State media announced that a Norwegian delegation had met LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabha-karan the discussions at the meeting were not disclosed.

'We understand that the Norwegian delegation arrived in Sri Lanka at the insistence of the Sri Lankan Government and that they were mandated to negotiate a cease-fire to be followed by unconditional talks between the Government and the LTTE with Norwegian mediation. We wish to inform both the Government and the Norwegian Government that the people of the country have all along opposed Norway's intervention in this internal Sri Lankan problem because of Norway's partiality towards the Tigers' said Dr. Dissanayake.

Dr. Dissanayake added that any agreement reached between the Government and the LTTE apart from being treated with general suspicion will eventually be rejected by the people as a whole.

'The NJC also wishes to add that the People's Alliance repeatedly pledged at the last elections that a solution to the North and East conflict would be sought by military means and the question of negotiation with the LTTE does not arise. What is most likely to happen once talks resume is that our armed forces will be demoralised once again thus allowing Prabhakaran to consolidate his position in the uncleared areas of the North and East' he said. 

Ven. Kamburugamuve Vajira of the Alliance for Peace who campaigned for peace talks told The Sunday Times that the latest development is a victory for all those who campaigned for peace talks.

'It is a very important move. Calling for unconditional talks is equally important. The Government should not waste even a minute, it should seize the opportunity and resume talks. There is no time to think whether the time is conducive or who should go for talks. There will definitely be problems once talks resume. It is through negotiation that we can achieve peace' said Ven. Vajira.

The monk added that in order to avoid unnecessary confrontation, talks should be held directly between President Kumaratunga and LTTE leader Prabhakaran.

'The Opposition party should also attend the talks. It is a national issue and the country cannot afford to lose any more lives because of this war. We have to go for talks. Norway plays a very important role in this regard and we have to welcome the initiative taken by that country' he said.

Secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference Bishop Malcolm Ranjith told The Sunday Times that it is only through negotiations that the country can achieve peace.

' We have always believed that the LTTE has to be brought to the negotiating table. They have to be included in any talks. The move made by the Norwegian delegation has to be welcomed and the Government together with the UNP, JVP and other political parties have to join in this effort' he said.

The Bishop added that both the LTTE and the Government have to agree on a goodwill gesture to strengthen the talks. The JVP is to carry out a series of protests to campaign against the Norwegian peace initiative following the Norwegian delegation meeting LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran on Thursday.

JVP spokesperson Wimal Weerawansa told The Sunday Times that Norway's involvement in the country's ethnic issue will have adverse effects on the country.

'The JVP does not believe that it is a good thing to get Norway involved in the problem. There have been many instances where Norway has supported the LTTE. It is Norway which allowed the LTTE to open an office there thus supporting their cause. We will not tolerate such interference from a European country. This is an internal problem and no third force need get involved' he said. He added that Norway's involvement will only strengthen the LTTE and pave the way for the Tigers to build a separate state. 

Western diplomats welcome talks 

Reacting to efforts by the Norwegian Government to revive the peace process the British High Commission states that the British Government strongly believes that resolving the conflict should be done through dialogue.

' We urge both parties to cease hostilities and start long-term negotiations. The role Norway is playing is very important. We entirely support the peace process ' it said.

US Embassy spokesperson Stephen Holgate said that the US Government has supported the Norwegian attempt at facilitation from the start.

'We have noted the press accounts of what the Norwegian facilitator Mr. Solheim was told by the LTTE on Thursday morning. As we have previously stated we favour a negotiable political solution to the ethnic strife in Sri Lanka that protects the dignity and security of all citizens in the country and that retains its unity and territorial integrity' he said.

The French Embassy in Sri Lanka was awaiting a statement from the French Foreign Affairs Ministry on the peace process.

Prabha told of international stance on ethnic problem

Norway's peace envoy to Sri Lanka, Erik Solheim who made a significant journey to the uncleared areas in the Wanni and met LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran says that international opinion that a solution should be found within an integrated Sri Lanka has been conveyed to the rebel chief.

Mr. Solheim told a news conference in Colombo on Thursday that during a meeting with the LTTE leader he conveyed the international opinion that there could be no new independent states in Sri Lanka and also that aspirations of the Tamils should be met in a substantial manner as a solution to the ethnic problem.

Explaining about his visit Mr. Solheim said he went to the Wanni on an invitation of the LTTE leadership.

'We went there on the invitation of the LTTE leader Mr. Prabhakaran, of course, with the concurrence of the President. We went by Army helicopter to Vavuniya, and proceeded from there by car. The main item of the programme was the talk with Prabhakaran. We also had discussions with Thamil Chelvam and we met community leaders and priests, officials of the education sector, the health sector and the NGOs.', he said.

'The visit to the Wanni was part of the normal confidence building measures. The LTTE wanted to show us the living conditions in the Wanni. According to them the living conditions are hard, difficult, with shortages of food, lack of medical supplies etc. There is a shortage of many items in this area. This is due to the war situation and to find a solution to the war means to find solutions to these also and improve the lives of the people.

'Of course, the most important part of our visit was the discussion with Prabhakaran and as far as we know, Mr. Prabhakaran has not met any foreign delegation for the last five years. So this meeting itself is a very positive step. We consider these talks very useful. The talks were open, serious and friendly and we found them very useful. 

'Certainly we cannot go into details discussed at this meeting as we expect to meet the President on Friday. We do not like to get into a position where the President will have to know about the talks from the newspapers. I can just confirm that we consider the talks very useful, but we also know that the conflict in Sri Lanka has lasted long and we cant expect quick fixes or an immediate solution.

'Mr. Prabhakaran gave his opinion on how the LTTE sees the war situation and how we, according to him, can explore the possibility of starting a peace process. We believe that the LTTE is serious and is interested in solving this problem through negotiations. We all know that it is very difficult. 

'On our side, we told the LTTE, the basic position of the international community and the Norwegian position which is similar to that of the international community. We had a frank talk on that basis. These are the basic facts' he said.

Following are excerpts of the responses given by Mr. Solheim to questions raised by journalists.

Q. The wire services reported that Mr. Prabhakaran had demanded the lifting of the embargo on food and medicine and the withdrawal of troops and a cease-fire. What did he offer in return? 

A. As far as we could understand, Mr. Prabhakaran did not set any pre- conditions but on the other hand, he discussed a number of possibilities which could be explored to initiate a peace process. He did not set any preconditions. We then went to the business of discussing how the initial phase would come about, and what messages could be taken by different parties so that peace talks could be possible. But I cannot go into the matter of what he mentioned. As a matter of principle we wont tell the press about the details, but if the government or the other party wishes to inform the public, they could do so. 

Q. You said that you explained the international position to Mr. Prabhakaran. Could you summarize this ? 

A. I think there is an international agreement on the basic principles when it comes to the question of the ethnic problem of Sri Lanka. First, the entire international community believes that the problem should be solved in a peaceful manner, but that should be based on two basic principles. First there should be no two independent States in Sri Lanka. The solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka has to be found within the integrity of Sri Lanka. The second is that in the integrity of Sri Lanka, Tamil aspirations have to be met in a substantial manner. 

Q. There was an incident in Mullaitivu. Did it take place when you were there? 

A.We have no information about that. Our efforts are not related to the day to day incidents. We cannot expect the parties to stop the war until the peace process is started.That is the reality where the Army and the LTTE are concerned.

Q. Was the issue of a cease-fire discussed ?

A. I will not go into these substantial matters. I will tell you only that we are realistic and are optimists in this matter.

Q. Did Prabhakaran indicate that he agrees with the international perspective?

A. I cannot comment on that. That would be commenting on the substance. But we of course reiterated on the principles of the international community.

Q.Did you carry a message from the government of Sri Lanka to Mr. Prabhakaran ?

A. No.

Q. Did the question of a direct meeting between Prabhakaran and the President surface?

A. No.

Q. Last month the President and the Foreign Minister said that the Norwegian invitation has reached an impasse. Do you think that things have moved substantially from that stage? 

A. You may know that the Foreign Minister brought a letter from the President during the recent visit to Norway confirming the continuous interest of the Sri Lankan government in the Norwegian initiation. And that is the basis for all our efforts .

Q.   Do you see any convergence of opinion and do you think any kind of solution is emerging ? 

A. Do we see any solution emerging ? We are spending a lot of time on these matters for the sake of the people of Sri Lanka. If we thought this to be absolutely hopeless, we wont get ourselves involved in this business. On the other hand, this conflict has lasted seventeen years and no one can expect a quick solution. Even if it is solved, in the near future, it would be a complicated matter to solve. In all other peace conflicts you can see, like in the Middle East or in any other conflict, this process takes time. 

Q. Are you carrying a message from the LTTE to the President ?

A. We are not carrying a specific message from the LTTE but we will discuss with her all the matters discussed.

Q. Did you discuss with parties in the South including the JVP ?

A. The Embassy had a discussion with the JVP We are willing to discuss with all major parties Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim.

Q. Where do you move from here ?

A. Our position is to be of service to the two parties. So we will discuss anything with the President and the LTTE. We cannot take any major step save with the concurrence of both parties.

Q. How long will it take for peace talks to commence ?

A. I can't make a comment on that. It could be some weeks or years, I cannot say. If we look at other conflicts in the globe, you can see the same situation.

Q. How has the latest meeting with Mr. Prabhakaran changed the situation?

A. Of course he has not met with any foreign delegation for the last five years. So we consider this as a major step.

Q. To prove your visit, do you have any photographs or video tapes ?

A. Yes I have.

Q. Can you issue them to the media ?

A. No.

Q.Will you plan to go back to the Wanni after meeting the President?

A. No. But we hope there will be more visits in the future.

Q. There is a view that Prabhakaran is ready for talks when he needs a breather from the war. What is the guarantee this will not happen?

A. I think we cannot operate on guarantees in a peace process. Our main task is to build confidence to make it possible. We consider Prabhakaran to be serious. We cannot give any guarantee.

Q. You said that this is the first time in five years that he was meeting a foreign delegation. How do you assess him ?

A. He looked absolutely healthy. He was eagerly participating in the talks and giving his frank opinion at the talks.

Minister seeks India's intervention 
COIMBATORE: Sri Lankan Minister for Estate Infrastructure and Livestock Development Arumugan Thondaman on Friday said only India's intervention could bring about a solution to the ethnic crisis in the island nation.

Thondaman, who arrived here en route to Singapore to attend the international confederation of Free Trade Unions, told newsmen that he would meet Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi on November 16 and impress upon him the important role the state could play in finding a solution to the crisis. 

He said the negotiations held with the Norwegian special envoy in this regard had not borne any fruit. 

His party (the Ceylon Workers' Party) had appealed to the Indian government to intervene, when External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh visited the island nation. (UNI) 

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