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How the Norwegians almost gave up
The 34-week-old ceasefire agreement between the government and the LTTE survived a near fatal blow recently. Frustrated by their inability to contact Chief Negotiator Anton Balasingham for weeks despite telephone and e-mail messages, the Norwegian facilitators set a deadline to make a public declaration and pull out of the talks.

Just three days before it ended, Dr. Balasingham made a telephone call from London to Oslo to speak to Vidar Helgesen, the Deputy Norwegian Foreign Minister, to signal that he was ready for another round of talks. That was how he met Mr. Helgesen and negotiator, Erik Solheim, on July 15 for talks, thus preventing a feared break-down.

That was the latest turn of events in matters relating to the Ceasefire Agreement where the time frame to enforce various provisions ended last Friday. Earlier, the LTTE had sent a message to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe directly, suggesting that future negotiations be conducted on a bilateral basis without the Norwegian facilitators, as reported in The Sunday Times last week. This message, however, was not conveyed to Norwegian facilitators. Premier Wickremesinghe did not respond to Tiger guerrilla soundings and has continued to interact with the Norwegians.

The forward movement of the Norwegian facilitation resumed with the July 15 talks between Mr. Helgesson and Dr. Balasingham. This round of talks saw the emergence of new thinking on the part of the guerrillas in respect of some of the matters relating to the ceasefire agreement and matters arising out of it.

Dr. Balasingham had expressed second thoughts about Thailand being the venue for peace talks and suggested it could be held in London or even Oslo. However, the Norwegian facilitators had reminded the LTTE chief negotiator that a venue in Thailand for peace talks was a choice made by the guerrillas. The Government of Norway, more importantly the royalty there, enjoys close ties with the Government and the royalty in Thailand. Their good offices have been used to secure Thailand. The Thai Government was ready with all the logistics and hence a shift in the venue would be difficult, the Norwegian facilitators had explained.

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