Norwegians discuss LTTE ban with Kumaratunga

[TamilNet, Friday, 19 April 2002, 23:43 GMT]
(News Feature) The Norwegian peace delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr. Vidar Helgessen, Friday met Sri Lanka's President Chandrika Kumaratunga and discussed at length matters related to Oslo's peace initiative, including the ban on the Liberation Tigers. President Kumaratunga, an opponent of lifting the proscription of the LTTE appeared to soften her stance earlier this week, but insisted on a time frame for talks in exchange, which the Tigers have in the past refused to accept.

The Norwegian officials briefed the President on the talks they had had with the Prime Minister, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe and the LTTE leader, Mr. Vellupillai Pirapaharan, earlier this week in regard to the formulation of an agenda for the forthcoming talks between the government and the LTTE which are expected to start in Thailand in the middle of June.

The state run Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation reported Friday in its evening news bulletin that President Chandrika has assured the Norwegian delegation her full commitment to continue the peace process until a negotiated political settlement for the ethnic conflict is found. "She will continue to provide her advice and counsel to the United National Front government in taking forward the peace process," SLBC reported.

Mrs. Kumaratunga banned the LTTE in early 1998 by special Presidential directive, while former Foreign Minister, Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar - now Special Advisor to the President - made canvassing for the proscription of the movement by other governments a key plank of his term.


The Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr. Vidar Helgessen (centre) and Special envoy to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, Mr.Erik Solheimmet with Sri Lanka's President Chandrika Kumaratunga

The LTTE insists it will not negotiate as an outlawed movement, and the newly elected United National Front (UNF) has agreed not to let the matter stand in the way of talks. But President Kumaratunga has consistently refused to deproscribe the organisaiton.

However, earlier this week she seemed to ease her opposition, but insisted on conditions, such as a time frame for concluding negotiations, which the LTTE has said cannot be imposed on talks.

"The President believes that there should be a 'definite and verifiable timeframe' between talks and the lifting of the ban," Presidential Spokesman, Harim Peiris said Wednesday.

"If [the lifting of] the ban should be a temporary suspension, then the timing of it, the human rights issues of civilians particularly in Government held areas, and the consideration of placing another human rights agreement prior to the lifting of the ban should also be considered," Peiris was quoted by government media as saying.

The LTTE has already rejected a temporary suspension of the ban, and has ruled out a deadline for talks between the two sides to conclude, citing the complexity and gravity of the issues under discussion.

At a landmark international press conference held by the LTTE on April 10, the movement's chief negotiator and political strategist, Mr. Anton Balasingham, when asked if the Tigers would settle for temporary deproscription, said ìNo. We want to be deproscribed properly. And the PTA [Prevention of Terrorism Act] has to be amended. We want to be accepted as the authentic representatives of our people, so we participate in talks with equal status."

Special envoy to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, Mr.Erik Solheim and Norway's Ambassador to Colombo, Mr. Jon Westborg, assisted Mr.Helgessen in the discussion. Special Advisor, Mr. Kadirgamar, and the leader of the main opposition People's Alliance, Mr.Mahinda Rajapakse, assisted Ms Chandrika Kumaratunga.

The Norwegian peace initiative collapsed last year when Kumaratunga and Kadirgamar demanded Solheim's downgrading from his role as Norway's peace envoy. When Oslo agreed to Colombo's demand without discussing the matter with the LTTE, the peace process stalled, with the Tigers insisting on the reinstatement of Solheim, who had been hailed by diplomats for his scrupulous neutrality.

The Norwegian peace initiative resumed in December shortly after the UNF government was elected on a platform of negotiations with the LTTE.


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