Petersen says ‘too early’ to predict talks

[TamilNet, Sunday, 11 July 2004, 12:09 GMT]
It is "too early" to say when the peace talks between the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers would start again, Norway's Foreign Minister, Jan Petersen, said last week in an interview to The Hindu newspaper. Mr. Petersen expressed confidence that the two year old cease-fire would continue to hold but said “it would probably be unrealistic to think that we will not have any more incidents.”

Oslo talks, 041202."I think the ceasefire will hold [in Sri Lanka]. The experience of two years of ceasefire is that people see the benefits of peace. I think this is a very powerful experience. Of course, we [have] had incidents from time to time and it would probably be unrealistic to think that we will not have any more incidents," Mr. Petersen told The Hindu newspaper.

Mr. Petersen, who met India’s External Affairs Minister, Natwar Singh, and the National Security Adviser, J.N. Dixit, made his comments the day after two gun attacks on LTTE political cadres in Sri Lanka Army controlled area and the day before an explosion at a Colombo police station blamed on a suicide bomber.

"We are in contact with both parties and it is really for them to announce when they are ready to resume the talks. It has to be understood that Norway's role is to be a facilitator, at the disposal of the two parties, which means that our job is not to give a running commentary on the [talks] process ..." Mr. Petersen said.

"I think it's wise to leave to the parties to comment on the situation in public. One of our facilitators [Erik Solheim] was in Sri Lanka last week and he was in touch with both parties. It was useful, but no conclusion yet," Mr. Petersen maintained.

Asked what impact the latest killings in eastern Sri Lanka would have on the peace process, he refrained from commenting.

"It is not for me to give any public comment on issues like this. It is for the two parties to comment on this," he said.

Mr. Petersen was asked if Norway have a view on the "Karuna factor" (or the ongoing violence attribute to the LTTE's former eastern commander, in the wake of the LTTE’s crushing of his shortlived rebellion) and its shadow on the peace process and how Olso proposed to deal with this issue as a facilitator?

"We are conveying messages between the parties. We have thorough discussions with them on all issues, including this one. What kind of assessment, advice or recommendations we give to the parties is vis-à-vis the party in question. You will certainly not read our recommendations in the papers," he said.

Mr. Petersen was asked what kind of role does Norway want India to play in Sri Lanka?

"That is for India to define. What we would like to do is, of course, to discuss the assessment of an ... extremely important player in this part of the world, not only in this part, but especially in this part of the world."

"It was important for me to come down and compare notes with the Indian side bearing in mind that we have two very, very different roles to play. So, it is not for me to define any role on behalf of India. India will define the role she wants to play herself," he said.

According to Mr. Petersen, Norway wanted to know India's role and assessment of the situation in Sri Lanka. Stressing that Norway did not have any independent role to play, he said that his was a small country, far away from Asia. "We just have to take whatever environment there is and make the best out of it."

Asked whether he had made any specific request of India, Mr. Pesaid that he wanted a general exchange of views with the Indian leadership as quickly as possible after a new government took over in New Delhi.

"We want to keep open contact with the Indian Government. I'm very happy that I was received at an early date," he said.

Asked if he saw the emergence of Sinhala hardline forces as a complicating factor in the Sri Lankan peace process, he replied: "Actually, we have had a lot of complicating factors over the years and we are prepared for that, of course.”

“This is a highly complex issue, with a lot of interests and our job is simply to navigate through all the problems, which means we are prepared to stay for the long haul if the parties so request us," he added.

In terms of navigation, where was Norway - at the beginning or the end of the journey, he was asked

"That's difficult to say because we don't know what is over the horizon," Mr. Petersen replied.

Asked how he assessed the LTTE leader, Velupillai Pirapaharan’s commitment to the peace process during a May meeting, Mr. Petersen said, "Our basic premise is that the two parties are serious and interested in solving this conflict."

Both the Sri Lankan President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, and Mr. Pirapaharan were serious about trying to reach an agreement, he said, adding "That is, of course, the only premise on which we can work."


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