Sri Lanka says "talks offer" as fighting continues

[TamilNet, Sunday, 13 August 2006, 08:11 GMT]
As heavy fighting continued between the Liberation Tigers and Sri Lanka’s military in the northern Jaffna peninsula, the government in Colombo claimed Sunday to have received on Friday an offer of talks from the LTTE and that it was accepting it. The government announcement came as press reports said the military’s air bridge to the Jaffna peninsula had been cut as the Palaly airbase continued to remain under LTTE artillery fire. The sea lines to Jaffna were also being disrupted by LTTE shelling of Trincomalee port.

The head of the government's peace secretariat, Palitha Kohona, told reporters in Colombo an offer of talks from the LTTE was received through truce monitors on Friday - the same day that heavy fighting broke out in the Jaffna peninsula.

LTTE political officials could not be contacted Sunday for comment.

However, peace-related communication between both sides have in the past been communicated only through the Norwegian government.

Norwegian Special Envoy Jon Hansen-Bauer, who had spent a week in Sri Lanka, only left the island this Friday, the day the government says the LTTE offer was communicated.

Mr. Hanssen-Bauer arrived the previous Friday on what was described by diplomats as a fact-finding visit, but coincided with a serious escalation of a standoff between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE over a blocked sluice gate at Maavil Aru.

Violence erupted when the SLA escalated a ground offensive against LTTE. A deal brokered by Mr. Hanssen-Bauer fell apart last Sunday when the international monitors enroute to open the Maavilaru sluice gate were targeted by intense SLA artillery fire.

Mr. Kohona’s announcement comes a day after his deputy, Ketheshwaran Loganathan, was shot dead in Colombo. Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse has blamed the LTTE for the killing.

The first indication of the LTTE’s offer appeared in an interview by Mr. Kohana to The Sunday Island newspaper.

“I was told by Ulf Henricsson, head of the SLMM, that Puleedevan wanted talks immediately and I said, of course,” he told the newspaper.

Asked what kind of talks the LTTE had wanted, Mr. Kohona told the paper: "I don’t know what sort of talks. He (Henricsson) said he would get back to me but I haven’t heard since."

Meanwhile, heavy fighting continued in the Jaffna peninsula, with artillery and mortar exchanges. Details are sketchy as telephone links to the northern peninsula are tenuous.

“Last night, it was looking pretty grim,” Janes' Defence Weekly analyst and Sunday Times columnist Iqbal Athas told Reuters, pointing to unexpected Tiger artillery fire on the main Sri Lankan air base.

“With the air base under fire, one of the umbilicals to Jaffna has been cut,” Athas said.

And on Saturday, the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) base at Trincomalee came under LTTE artillery fire for the second time in a week. Trincomalee is the starting point for sea supply lines to Jaffna.

LTTE officials refused to comment on reports Sunday the air bridge to the northern peninsula had been cut, but said LTTE operations were ongoing inside the Muhamalai High Security Zone (HSZ) and other parts of the Jaffna peninsula.

The Sri Lankan government said Sunday it had repulsed an LTTE offensive there.


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