SCOPP, Defence Ministry clash over LTTE transport

Swedish monitor accompanies Tigers on helicopter

By Shimali Senanayake

Sharp differences emerged last week between Sri Lanka's Peace Secretariat and the Defence Ministry over providing helicopter transport for the LTTE delegation on their return to Sri Lanka.

Hours before the six-member LTTE group were to leave Zurich, Switzerland on Tuesday, the Defence Ministry dispatched a letter to the Norwegian peace-brokers saying that Sri Lanka Air Force helicopter transport will only be provided from the Bandaranaike International Airport to Omanthai, Vavuniya, the crossing-point after which begins LTTE-controlled territory toward Kilinochchi.

The Defence Ministry communiqué said the Tigers will be dropped at Omanthai and no further, Government officials close to the process said. This meant that the Tigers would have to make their own transport arrangements from that point onward.

The LTTE is usually provided with helicopter transport to and from Kilinochchi for overseas trips connected to the peace process. However, the change took place after the Tigers reneged on a decision to hold talks with the Government delegation in Oslo, Norway on the morning talks were set to open.

On receiving the letter, Norwegian peace brokers made repeated contact with Peace Secretariat Secretary General Palitha Kohona in Colombo to try to reverse Sri Lanka's decision.

During this period, the LTTE group boarded a flight to Dubai.

Norway meanwhile, panicked. Diplomats involved in the process said they had indicated to the Government that if the Tigers were not dropped in their heartland Kilinochchi, it may cause the LTTE group to return to Norway.

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who was on an official visit at the time in Oslo, was also informed of the latest developments and the complications they could entail.

Meanwhile, in Colombo, Dr. Kohona informed President Mahinda Rajapaksa of the developments and the decision was subsequently reversed.

Norway's special peace envoy Jon Hanssen Bauer was informed of the change. He in turn informed the Tigers via satellite telephone when they landed in Dubai.The Tiger delegation arrived as scheduled on Wednesday, June 14.

A Swedish monitor, whom the LTTE met on previous occasions, accompanied the delegation to Kilinochchi.

The LTTE raised no objection to her presence, despite its claims in Oslo demanding that monitors from Sweden, Denmark and Finland - a part of the 25-member European Union bloc exit from the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission. The EU last month, included the LTTE on its list of terror organizations in a major political and economic blow to the group.


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