British MPs tour Jaffna, Vanni

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 16 October 2002, 04:52 GMT]
Progress in peace talks will largely determine if Britain will lift the ban on the LTTE or not, said Mr.Gareth Thomas, British Member of Parliament, Tuesday after visiting Jaffna and Vanni areas accompanied by Mr.Robert Evans, Member of European Parliament.

Mr.Robert Evans and Mr.Gareth Thomas met Mr.S.P.Thamilchelvan Tuesday afternoon and had discussions for about one and a half hours, according to the LTTE sources.

The British MPs arrived in Jaffna yesterday and visited Vadamarachchy, Kaithadi and Chavakachcheri. They met the Principal of Harley College, Mr. SriPathy in Point Pedro and had discussions with the representatives of the Students Union of Jaffna University. They also had discussions with Major General Anton Wijendra at the Palaly army base.

British MPs visit Vanni.

Meeting local press in Vavuniya enroute to Colombo, Mr. Evans said, "I was in Jaffna two years ago. The town has made significant process toward normality. But we are very conscious of the need to move forward. There seems to be a lot of evidence of re-building and it is heartening to see the people not only are going about with their own lives but looking forward with optimism towards the future.

"We are very enthusiastic about the peace process and the prospects for the country settling down and moving forward. No one thinks it is going to be easy. Negotiations towards reaching a settlement will be difficult and will take time. But the mere fact that within a matter of months talks are taking place and more talks are planned is very encouraging to all people of Sri Lanka."

When asked about the meetings with the officials of the security forces and with the political head of the LTTE Mr. Evans said, "We discussed with both sides on issues related to landmines, recruitment policies of child soldiers, resettlement, and their commitment to the peace process. Although there are differences between the sides in some aspects, over all we are satisfied with the positive nature of responses."

Mr.Robert Evans said that they were impressed on the changes which has taken place in Colombo and Jaffna after the peace process started to move forward.

"I have noticed a markded decrease of the military presence and road blocks in Colombo. Situation is similar in Jaffna. We didn't feel in any way insecure or on the edge in Jaffna. We went out in the evening and it was fine. Equally in the Vanni, there was no show of military strength by the LTTE."

When asked about the fate of the Tamil asylum seekers in the European countries he said: "There are number of people, mainly Tamils from North and East seeking asylum. The UK government and the other European governments are trying to work out a common European Asylum Policy that will provide an opportunity and assistance for those wishing to return to Sri Lanka to resettle. But there will not be any forced repatriation. At present we are not accepting new asylum seekers from Sri Lanka because the situation is calm and we don't believe the current position warrants it."

Mr.Gareth Thomas said he joined this visit to see for himself the ground situation in the country in general and particularly in Vanni, the area controlled by the LTTE.

"I wanted to see how the peace process is working and I am very much encouraged by the way things are going on here now. We hope the peace process will continue and the sense of peace and the sense of goodwill will deepen.

"One of the issues they have raised with me is the ban on the LTTE. The truth is the ban on the LTTE is not likely to be lifted until we see how the peace process unfolds. The reason I have come to Sri Lanka is because I have a large number of Tamil contituents, in some areas 10% of residents are Sri Lankans," he said.

TELO sources in Vavuniya said that the MPs visit was initiated by Mr.Selvam Adaikalanathan TNA MP for the Vanni electoral district, who is now in India.


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