Norway's peace initiative mired in blood
[TamilNet, Saturday, 28 April 2001, 03:38 GMT]
(NEWS FEATURE) The Norwegian peace initiative suffered several body blows this week as amid a bloody Sri Lanka Army offensive in the Jaffna peninsula, the government ruled out the possibility of a ceasefire, saying it was Ļirrelevant" to the Norwegian facilitated peace process, and insisted the Liberation Tigers would remain proscribed until they proved they were "sincere and honest" about negotiations, thereby rejecting two issues the LTTE insists are pre-requisites for succesful negotiations to be held.
As casualties mounted in the northern Jaffna peninsula where a major government offensive launched Wednesday ran into "stiff and determined" resistance from the LTTE, resulting in the deaths of at least 350 combatants and the wounding of at least 1400, Sri Lanka's President Chandrika Kumaratunge Thursday ruled out a ceasefire.
"As far as we are concerned having a cease-fire is irrelevant to the peace process," Kumaratunga said in an exclusive interview to the official government website, state-owned press reported. Nevertheless, she insisted that her government was " totally committed to commencing negotiations with the LTTE."
The Daily News said the President was responding to the LTTE's decision Monday to withdraw its four month long unilateral ceasefire. The Tigers said the Sri Lankan government's refusal to reciprocate and continued attacks by the military made their ceasefire "futile".
When the LTTE offered a month-long truce last December, the government dismissed it as a ploy and stepped up attacks against the Tigers. The LTTE said it would observe its truce anyway and extended it three times for a month. The LTTE said 160 cadres had been killed in Sri Lankan attacks during its truce.
"Once again I reiterate with all honesty and very strongly my call to the LTTE not to continue with their tactics of pretending to the world they are ready for peace while putting all sorts of obstacles to delay the process of negotiations," President Kumaratunge said Thursday.
Sri Lanka Army (SLA) troops unleashed a massive offensive in the southern Jaffna peninsula Wednesday using tanks, artillery and air power. Troop movements stalled amid heavy resistance from the LTTE, but heavy fighting has continued since with both sides slogging it out with heavy weapons. The Tigers said Friday they were pounding a 1 km long salient of territory captured by the SLA on Wednesday with artillery.
Meanwhile, echoing the President's assertion there would be no ceasefire, Sri Lanka's Prime Minister also said Thursday that the government was not agreeable to a cease-fire, being fully aware of the true nature of the LTTE.
"We burnt our fingers once and we are not prepared to let it happen again," the Daily News Friday quoted Ratnasiri Wickremanayake as saying. It was not clear what the Prime Minister's reference was to.
"The LTTE is a ruthless group of separatist terrorists who are trying to revolt against a democratically elected Government. They have no morals, principles or ethics," he said, according to the paper.
The government would not consider lifting the ban against the LTTE unless and until it is positively assured that future peace talks with the government appear to be absolutely sincere and honest, the Daily News said.
As possibilities for peace talks faded this week, the Norwegian peace envoy, Erik Solheim remained optimistic. Responding, albeit before this week's events, to questions posed by readers of The Lanka Academic online newspaper, Mr. Solheim said: "The [peace] process is in a preparatory and most vulnerable stage. Hopefully the parties will decide to start direct talks, but there are still issues which will have to be sorted out before that is possible."
Nevertheless, he stressed that it was up to the protagonists to bring about the goodwill for talks. "If in the future we [Norway] are able to make some successes it will be because the [warring] parties are ready to move towards peace," he said.
However, on Tuesday, the eve of her military's offensive, Kumaratunge vowed to defeat the Liberation Tigers and safeguard the territorial integrity of the country, the state-owned Daily News reported Wednesday.
Describing the LTTE as an "unprincipled terrorist organisation," she saluted Sri Lanka's military for "continuing to fight tooth and nail to wipe out the LTTE from the face of our dear motherland."