Ministry clash over LTTE transport
Swedish monitor accompanies Tigers on helicopter
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
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
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
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.