LTTE scoffs at new agenda
Peace facilitator Norway's last minute bid, ahead of the New Year, to revive peace talks between the UPFA Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is proving to be a difficult, if not impossible task.

The latest impasse came when Norway's Special Envoy Erik Solheim held talks in London with LTTE chief negotiator and ideologue Anton Balasingham. Also on hand for the three-hour long meeting was Norway's Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Hans Brattskar. He flew in from Oslo.

With both the UPFA Government and the LTTE sticking categorically to their respective positions, the Norwegian peace facilitators moved in to break the deadlock. This was through a draft agenda for talks. Such a move naturally incorporated discussions over an interim structure.

In dealing with this subject, Mr. Solheim is learnt to have explained the outcome of his talks last week in Colombo with Dr. Jayantha Dhanapala. The Secretary General of the Sri Lanka Peace Secretariat had detailed out the Government offer to discuss an interim authority and elaborated on matters related to it. The positions so enunciated had led to speculation that the UPFA Government had forwarded a fresh formula. At most he had only articulated the Government's stance to offer an interim authority and made some proposals connected with it verbally.

Norway's move to formulate the outlines of a draft agenda is based on endorsements of both the Government and the LTTE. This came about during talks Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen held both with President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in Colombo and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in Kilinochchi. Besides the agenda, the two sides also called upon Norway to suggest dates and a venue for talks in consultation with them.

Dr. Dhanapala said yesterday that media reports giving details of the so-called proposals were pure speculation. "We know and the LTTE knows what is there. I will neither confirm nor deny reports that I had sent any proposals," he told The Sunday Times.

Speaking on the telephone from Oslo, Mr. Solheim confirmed to The Sunday Times that it was Norway that was formulating the draft agenda. However, he declined to elaborate.

Hardly had Mr. Balasingham held talks at his residence in London with the Norwegian duo and later entertained them to a Chinese lunch, had speculation mounted over fresh Sri Lankan proposals. This came soon after Mr. Balasingham transmitted to Wanni a report on his talks with Messers Solheim and Brattskar. That, of course, included an elaboration of the Government's offer of an interim authority by Dr. Dhanapala. But news reports, particularly in the Tamil media, had already highlighted reports that the government had made fresh proposals. They were attributed to Mr. Balasingham.

According to reports the UPFA leadership received through their own channels, the remarks of Mr. Balasingham were to cause ripples among the Wanni leadership. They were angry he had initiated news reports that tended to raise hopes in the minds of the Tamil people of fresh prospects for peace talks. It came at a time when the LTTE had launched a number of moves for a "people's uprising" to win their demands and were continuing with preparations to resume hostilities.

Angered by the developments, LTTE Political Wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan summoned representatives of the Jaffna-based Tamil media. It was for a "discussion" and not a news conference. There he explained the sequence of events, some "off the record" and others for publication. His comments on Dr. Dhanapala's proposals for the Norwegian draft agenda received wide play in the Jaffna media. In Colombo, Sudar Oli whose sister publication in Jaffna, Uthayan was represented at the discussion, had the following account last Thursday:

"There is no definite provision or clarity in the latest agenda put forward by the Sri Lanka Government for a resumption of peace talks. Therefore, there is no possibility of the Tigers accepting the agenda….

"Tiger sources said that the agenda did not contain any definitive provisions, arrangements or clarity on substantive matters for a resumption of the talks. The LTTE is insisting that the peace talks should be held based on the Interim Self Governing Authority. It has been endorsed by an overwhelming mandate given by the Tamil people at the last General Elections. However, this matter had not been clearly dealt with in the agenda proposed by the Government. The agenda had made reference only to talks on an interim arrangement.

"The Sri Lanka Government and the President have conflicting approaches with regard to the interim arrangements. In like manner, the main opposition United National Party has a different structure. In such a situation, it appears that the Tigers consider it confusing about the commencement of talks 'about an interim arrangement' without definitely referring to the 'talks on the Interim Self Governing Authority.

"It is stated that the structure of the Government's new agenda appears designed to create confusion by including the Government's plan for an interim arrangement to it. All this while the President had insisted that any discussion on an interim arrangement should also take up a permanent settlement.

"It is understood that in the current proposal submitted by the Government, the President has not made it clear that she had dropped this insistence. Therefore, it is felt that if the talks are started based on the agenda, there is a possibility that the President may try to append the matter again.

"Sources close to the Tigers say that there is no possibility of the Tigers closely studying the proposal which contains these and other confusion and which lacks clarity.

What the Tamil media did not report is the note of caution sounded by Mr Thamilselvan. He said the media should be careful in reporting stories that wrongly raised hopes of the Tamil people and distracted them from the liberation struggle.

On Friday night the LTTE officially rejected the Government's proposals incorporated in the Norwegian draft agenda. See Tamilnet web site report in the box story on this page.

The LTTE said "As the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) continues to declare its vehement opposition to peace talks with the LTTE based on the Interim Self Governing Authority as proposed by our organization, the LTTE leadership insists on a clear, coherent, well defined version of the agenda, without ambiguity and abstruseness."

On Friday itself Mr. Solheim is learnt to have conveyed to Peace Secretariat Secretary General Dr. Dhanapala the response from the LTTE. He had also later told to Mr. Balasingham in London that the LTTE response has been delivered.

It was not only the LTTE hierarchy in the Wanni whose concerns were raised by this week's developments. In Colombo the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna's (JVP) main policymaking body, the Central Committee, was also deliberating on the peace process and the LTTE's repeated demand for ISGA on Wednesday. The lengthy discussion ended with a detailed statement.

The JVP said proposals for an ISGA were in effect plans for a separate state. After the Central Committee meeting, a statement issued called upon the Government to take into consideration five points. They are:

1. Whatever difficult situation should arise, not to take any steps to hinder the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka.

2. The Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) proposals forwarded by the LTTE refuse to accept the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka and the government should reject any talks based on them.

3. The immediate intervention to resume negotiations capable of providing the national question a lasting solution; that could consider all proposals aimed at meeting the aspirations of all communities that could show the dedication to protect Sri Lanka's diversity, human rights and democracy and that could attend to reconstruction and humanitarian needs in the North and East is urgently needed.

4. Should intervene to take all measures to prevent an outbreak of war in Sri Lanka again, and

5. To achieve the above objectives, adopt measures to educate the local and international community.

The JVP statement added:
"On December 22, 2004 the JVP Central Command discussed in depth the working of Sri Lanka's national issue, the peace process.

"In April 2003, the LTTE withdrew from the peace talks and not the Sri Lanka Government. At that time the ruling party was the United National Party. Till the UNP Government lost power in April 2004, they were unable to get the LTTE to return to peace talks.

"In October 2003, the LTTE forwarded proposals for an Interim Government. They called it the Interim Self Governing Authority. These proposals were completely different to the Oslo declaration announced by the UNP Government. The LTTE's ISGA proposal disregards Sri Lanka's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Because of this, any responsible Government cannot discuss them. The SLFP, the JVP and several political parties and organizations have stated so.

"These proposals are plans for a separate state. Even other countries have said so. According to the agreement signed on January 20, 2004 between the SLFP and the JVP and the election manifesto of the UPFA, we have stated that we will hold discussions with the LTTE and other relevant parties to come to a peaceful settlement for this national problem.

"Following the break up of peace talks during the UNP Government, now the responsibility of reviving it after discussing with the LTTE and other political parties has fallen on the UPFA Government. The only hindrance to resuming peace talks is the LTTE's demand that such talks should be based on the ISGA proposals.

"Using this situation, the UNP and other anti progressive parties have got together to make it uncomfortable for the UPFA Government." The statement says it is after a discussion of this situation that the JVP had arrived at the five-point decision.

Thus, ahead of the dawn of New Year 2005, the positions of the UPFA Government and the LTTE remain clearly defined. The Government is offering only an interim administration based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka. The LTTE on the other hand is insisting on an ISGA and has re-iterated that its position on discussing the matter is not negotiable.

It is in this backdrop that the LTTE has continued to step up its so-called campaign of "public uprising" and other measures to consolidate its position. Last week the Wanni leadership rejoiced over The Sunday Times report (quoting the United News of India news agency) that the proposed Defence Co-operation Agreement with Sri Lanka will not be signed.

The report said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had given an assurance to a pro-LTTE party in the ruling alliance that New Delhi would not sign any defence agreement with Sri Lanka for the time being in the interests of Tamils in the island nation. The report added: Disclosing this to reporters, Marumalatchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam (MDMK) Chairman L. Ganeshan said and added MDMK General Secretary Vaiko had already spoken to the Prime Minister, the Defence Minister and Congress Party president on the issue.

Former Defence Secretary Cyril Herath told media last month, days ahead of his retirement, that the Defence Co-operation Agreement would be signed before the end of November. This, however, has not materialised. No longer Defence Secretary, Mr. Herath was complaining to friends recently that columnists in The Sunday Times were trying to tell him how to run his Ministry. He claimed that they did not have their facts and they were often wrong. But, quite clearly if there were such inaccuracies the Police Chief turned bureaucrat, the top most official then handling defence, could easily have raised issue. Alas, criticism is something not only bureaucrats but those in uniform seem to detest. What they most welcome is praise and more praise, no matter who did what. So the media is berated behind the scenes though openly what is sought is propaganda.

This week, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian Mavai Senathirajah left for Chennai. Besides undergoing medical treatment, he is also to seek meetings with the leadership of the MDMK including Mr. Vaiko. This is to thank them both on behalf of the Alliance and the LTTE for their efforts in ensuring that the Defence Co-operation Agreement between Colombo and New Delhi is not signed. He is also to explore possibilities in using the good offices of the Tamil Nadu political party to persuade the Indian Government to invite a TNA delegation to visit New Delhi to brief them on developments related to the peace process.

Significantly, intelligence sources say, Sea Tiger movements were specifically curtailed when Indian Coast Guard vessels visited Colombo for joint exercises on non-military matters - to control pollution, counter drug smuggling,and search and rescue operations. These sources said cadres manning vessels were ordered to keep a safe distance and avoid any visual contact when the Coast Guard fleet moved Sri Lankan waters from a Tamil Nadu port.

A campaign to pressure the Government to discuss the ISGA proposals with the LTTE got off on Monday in Chavakachcheri. Military estimated the crowd turnout at 500 to 600. Protestors carried placards and shouted slogans demanding the Government to start talks on the ISGA. TNA parliamentarians N. Raviraj, Pathmini Sithamparanathan and M.K. Sivajilingam took part in the event together with representatives of the LTTE. A memorandum addressed to President Kumaratunga and handed over to the Divisional Secretary of the area, S. Srinivasan, claimed that the Tamils fear the armed forces were preparing for another war.

The second protest campaign was held on Wednesday in Kaithady. The same slogans were shouted and the demand to negotiate ISGA was repeated. TNA parliamentarians Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam and Pathmini Sithamparanathan took part together with Easwaran, the LTTE leader for Thenmaratchi.

A new development in military preparations under way this week was the house-to-house visits by Tiger guerrilla groups responsible for recruitment. Their targets are students who are now enjoying December holidays, particularly those who had sat the GCE (OL) examination. Training activity for selected groups has been somewhat impeded by heavy rains in the Wanni.

In view of the clearly defined positions of both the UPFA Government and the LTTE, the deadlock remains. How long it will continue in the wake of campaigns by TNA MPs on the one hand and the JVP on the other is the the crucial question.

LTTE wants “clear, coherent, well-defined agenda”
The Tamilnet website which reported the LTTE's rejection of Government's proposals for the Norwegian draft agenda for peace talks states:

“The LTTE leadership, in an official response to the fresh agenda proposed by the Sri Lanka government, has called for a clear, coherent, well defined agenda for peace talks. The Tamil Tiger leaders have also expressed their disapproval to the structure and content of the government's agenda because of its vagueness and ambiguity.“

“Mr Anton Balasingham, the LTTE's theoretician and chief negotiator, conveyed his organisation's official response to Mr Erik Solheim, Norway's Special Envoy to Sri Lanka today. Mr Solheim presented the Sri Lanka government's fresh agenda last week to Mr Mr Balasingham when he met him in London. “

“The following is the response of the LTTE leadership as conveyed by Mr Balasingham to the Norwegian Envoy:
"As the Janatha Vimukthi Perumuna (JVP) continues to declare its vehement opposition to peace talks with the LTTE based on the Interim Self-Governing Authority as proposed by our organisation, the LTTE leadership insists on a clear, coherent, well defined version of the agenda, without ambiguity and abstruseness.

"The LTTE leadership, having carefully scrutinised the current version of the agenda as presented by the Sri Lanka government, is displeased with its structure and contents. Because of the vague and inconsistent attitude articulated by President Kumaratunga on the ISGA and the violent opposition expressed by her major ally and coalition partner, the JVP, the Tamil Tiger leaders insist on a clear, comprehensive agenda, instead of revising earlier formulations, definitely specifying that the Interim Self-Governing Authority, as proposed by the LTTE, shall be the basis for peace negotiations.

"Please convey the position of the LTTE leadership to the Government of Sri Lanka."

Changes in the Navy
Navy Headquarters has effected a series of top level postings effective January, next year.

Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, Director General of Naval Operations will take over as Commander, Eastern Naval Area based in Trincomalee. Taking over his post as DGNO will be Rear Admiral Daya Dharmapriya, presently Commander, Northern Naval Area .

Rear Admiral Upali Ranaweera, the present Commander of the Eastern Naval Area, has been designated Director-General (Services) at Navy Headquarters.

Rear Admiral T.M.N.K.B. Tennekoon, presently commanding officer of naval base Uttara has been named Commander, Northern Naval Area.
Commodore D. Samarawickrema has been designated as the Commander, Southern Naval Area based in Boosa, Galle.

Commodore P.L.N. Obeysinghe Deputy Area Commander (East).
Commodore D.W.A.S. Dissanayake, currently attached to the Uttara naval base, has been named the Deputy Area Commander (North).

Commodore T.M.J. Mendis, currently attached to the staff of the Comeast in Trincomalee, has been named Eastern Area deputy commander.
Commodore J.S.K. Kolombage, currently deputy area commander, Trincomalee, has been designated as Director, Project and Plans.
Commodore M.T.D.J. Dharmasiriwardena, currently on the staff of Commander, Western Naval Area has been named deputy area commander of the same region.

Commodore S.A.M.J. Perera has been named as Principal Staff Officer at the Joint Operations Headquarters (JOH) in addition to his duties at the naval base Parakrama. He succeeds Commodore Tissera Samarasinghe who leaves for New Delhi for a year long stint at the National Defence College.
Commodore N.G.D. Tennekoon attached to the Pandukabaya naval base has been named as Deputy Area Commander of the North Central Command.

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