'No time frame for talks'
[TamilNet, Tuesday, 05 November 2002, 22:04 GMT]
(News Feature) Whilst hailing the success of the second round of talks between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers in Thailand last week as "exceeding expectations," Norwegian facilitators echoed the views of both sides' chief negotiators in saying the peace process could not be time bound.
The consensus, stated as both sides prepare to examine a longer term political settlement, is a rebuttal of President Chandrika Kumaratunga's insistence the talks should be wrapped up within a fixed period, a stance reiterated last month by one of her key advisors, former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.
Responding to questions by reporters at the press conference wrapping up the second round of direct talks in Thailand Sunday, Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen said the "parties have exceeded expectations" with regards the success of the talks.
"[But] I think it is important to call for patience and to repeatedly state that this is going to take time. The parties in Sri Lanka are now looking ahead towards peace and the prospects look good," he said.
"In a number of peace processes over the last decade, if one tries to look back, one will see they all took time, even though they all looked good - and some of them derailed as well," Mr. Helgesen cautioned, citing the Middle East, Northern Ireland and the Balkans.
"I think we need to be clear that parties need to do thorough work. They need to really go down to the details. There is a need to address issues step by step, to not escape or put off tricky issues but actually go through them. But that will take time," he said.
"So whether or not it will take one or two or three or four or seven or ten years to reach a final settlement, as long as it moves forward, that is the important thing," Mr. Helgesen said.
The Liberation Tigers' chief negotiator, Mr. Anton Balasingham pointed out that "the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka is a very complex and intractable problem. We have been engaged in a violent and brutal war for the last 20 years. One shouldn't expect a quick solution to a very complex issue with a very long and complex history."
"It will be difficult for us to give a timeframe for peace negotiations. It will be imprudent on my part to spell out a particular timeframe for a solution," he said.
"But at the same time both parties are seriously and sincerely committed to peace and we will make every endeavour to see a final and permanent settlement is reached without much delay," Mr. Balasingham said.
The Sri Lankan government chief negotiator, Prof. G. L. Peiris observed: "We are engaging in that process of assessment and evaluation at every point. That is how we propose to proceed. So obviously it is going to take some time."
"I really agree with Mr. Balasingham that given the history and complexity of this matter it would be na‘ve to expect very rapid progress in weeks or months," Mr. Peiris said. "But at every stage we will have tangible results achieved, something under our belts."
In the wake of the landmark first round of talks in Sittahip, Thailand, President Chandrika Kumaratunga's advisor, Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar was critical of the step-by-step approach followed by the Norwegian peace process.
"We see no justification for protracted talks. After all, the problem is not a new one. Surely both parties must have identified the fundamentals relating to their stand by now," he said.
"What is the use of maintaining a ceasefire for even five years if we can't work out a solution," Mr. Kadirgamar asked at the time.