Furore over peace talks letters

[TamilNet, Monday, 02 October 2000, 00:35 GMT]
(News Feature) The letters exchanged between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers during the 1995 peace talks have become an unexpected election issue in the run up to the island's forthcoming Parliamentary polls. The main opposition, the United National Party (UNP), has seized on the hitherto unpublicised letters as evidence the government had not informed the Sri Lankan public about its negotiations with the Tigers, forcing the government to respond with a counter-campaign.

In his book, The Politics of Duplicity, released last month, Anton Balasingham, the Liberation Tigers' theoretician examined the ill-fated peace talks in Jaffna, providing in chronological order, the written correspondence between the leaderships of the two parties to the conflict during the negotiations.

peace-talks_95_1.gif
Mr.Tamilselvan, Head of the LTTE delegation welcomes Mr.Balapatabendi, Head of Sri Lanka government delegation at the LTTE political headquarters, Jaffna.Photo:The Politics of Duplicity
Letters written by President Chandrika Kumaratunge, to the LTTE leader, Vellupillai Pirapaharan were quickly picked up by UNP as evidence of "secret negotiations" - something the President has consistently denied and in turn accused the UNP of being involved in.

Several of the letters were reproduced in a review of the book by the pro-UNP weekly, the Sunday Leader, with promises of further reproductions. Pointing out that the LTTE had warned the government of its intention to withdraw from the truce on April 19, 1995, the paper questioned how the Tigers were able to successfully attack government gunboats at Trincomalee harbour that night.

The UNP has been also handing out copies of the letters from the book as part of its campaign, according to political correspondents in Colombo.

The government has been compelled to respond. President Kumaratunge in a broadcast over the state-owned Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) last week denied she had ever been involved in secret negotiations with the Tigers.

bala_book-cover_110900.jpgThe letters had only been with regards to holding talks and to end the ethnic conflict, she said. She also said Balasingham's book was incomplete. The "most important" letters were missing she said. She also said the book was released on the eve of the Parliamentary elections in order to assist the UNP.

The UNP dismisses the President's statements. "The book is complete," UNP sources told TamilNet. "The letters were exchanged via the ICRC, and they confirmed that there are no other letters.î

"The simple fact is the President has not been forthright about her dealings with the LTTE and is now attempting to confuse the issue," the UNP official said.

The state owned Sunday Observer, this week also reproduced some letters taken from Balsingham's book and echoed President Kumaratunge's claim by obliquely alleging some letters were missing. Saying the book was released before the polls "causing speculation whether this is a move to help the UNP," the paper said it was publishing some letters from the book, "which will throw a different light on the LTTE's motives in the context of doubts raised whether letters disadvantageous to the LTTE have been excluded from the book.î

But whilst President Kumaratunge said she would reveal the missing letters "soon", the UNP is confidently exploiting the book. Last week Anura Bandaranaike, the President's estranged brother and UNP politician, presented copies of the letters at a media conference.

"Chandrika knew that Prabhakaran had called off the talks and did not take the nation into her confidence," Anura Bandaranaike was quoted in the Sunday Leader as saying.

Meanwhile, the continuing furore is being received with satisfaction by the book's London-based publishers, Fairmax Publishing Ltd. "We're absolutely delighted," a representative told TamilNet. "We've seen a massive rise in orders this week and are considering a second print run."

 

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