ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 24

N. Ireland peacemaker for Lanka

From Neville de Silva in London

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is sending a special envoy to Colombo this week to assist in getting the peace talks with the LTTE back on track.

The appointment of Paul Murphy who was closely involved in the Northern Ireland peace negotiations that eventually brought a political settlement is an indication that Britain intends to take a much more “hands on” role to revive Sri Lanka’s stalled talks than it had done before in the hope of bringing about a lasting political solution, informed political sources said.

The Sunday Times of September 17 exclusively reported that Mr. Blair had decided to appoint a special envoy with experience in negotiating peace following discussions he had with President Mahinda Rajapaksa during the latter’s visit to London in August.The two leaders met at “Chequers”, the British prime minister’s country residence where they discussed the Sri Lanka situation.

Following President Rajapaksa’s request, Mr. Blair is sending Paul Murphy, a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who had earlier served as political development minister for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Murphy was at the heart of the Northern Ireland negotiations which led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 that brought an end to the menacing problem of IRA terrorism.

Mr Murphy is remembered as a skilled problem solver during his time in Belfast from 1997 to 2005 first at the Northern Ireland Office and later as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he was succeeded by Peter Hain in a cabinet reshuffle.

Mr. Murphy is currently heading the security and intelligence committee of the House of Commons. The tireless and soft spoken negotiator will be assisted by Christopher Maccabe, a senior civil servant who is director of the Northern Ireland Office in Belfast. How long the two men spend in Sri Lanka is not quite certain yet but it is expected that they would want to meet a range of persons who are stakeholders and have direct interest in the issue.

This could mean a stay of anything between a week to two weeks, the sources said.

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.