Norwegian peace broker meets with Sri Lankan leaders
A Norwegian peace-broker was meeting with Sri Lankan leaders, officials said Tuesday, amid concerns that the assassination of the country's foreign minister could further damage Sri Lanka's already faltering peace process, AP reported.
Norway's Foreign Affairs Minister Jan Peterson met with President Chandrika Kumaratunga late Monday to assess what impact the slaying of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar on Friday might have on the prospect of resumed peace talks, said Jayantha Dhanapala, from the government's Peace Secretariat.
The guerrillas began fighting in 1983 for an independent homeland in the north and east for Sri Lanka's ethnic minority Tamils, claiming discrimination by the majority Sinhalese. The war killed nearly 65,000 people before Norway brokered a cease-fire in February 2002. Subsequent peace talks stalled in June 2003 over rebel demands for more autonomy.
Peterson, one of the architects of the suspended peace deal, was meeting with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse on Tuesday, said Tom Knappskog, a spokesman from the Norwegian Embassy.
"Yes, we are meeting the prime minister this morning," Knappskog said, but he declined to provide details.
Unidentified snipers shot Kadirgamar in the head and heart late Friday at his home in the capital Colombo. No one has claimed responsibility for the assassination, but Kumaratunga and military officials have roundly blamed Tamil Tiger rebels.
Kadirgamar, an ethnic Tamil, long supported efforts toward a negotiated peace in Sri Lanka, and was a vocal critic of the Tamil Tigers' two-decade rebellion.
"The assassination clearly bears the hallmark" of the rebel group, Foreign Secretary S. Paliakkara said Monday.
Nonetheless, Tamil Tiger leaders deny they were behind his killing and have urged the military to look within its ranks for the murderers.
By late Monday, 51 suspects had been arrested in and around Colombo in connection with the assassination, said military spokesman Brig. Daya Ratnayake. Thirty-five of them have been released on bail, eight are in police cells awaiting further investigation and police are still questioning the remaining eight, Ratnayake said.
The murdered foreign minister was cremated Monday at a sunset ceremony according to Buddhist tradition, which was attended by domestic and foreign dignitaries despite security concerns.
Kumaratunga imposed a state of emergency Saturday and on Tuesday a heavy police and troop presence remained in the capital. Nevertheless, schools and businesses reopened and life appeared to be returning to normal.
The military said the situation in Tamil-dominated areas remained stable.
"The situation in the northeast is calm, there have been no major incidents," military spokesman Ratnayake said.
Paliakkara urged foreign governments to clamp down on overseas supporters of the Tamil rebels.
"This has gone too far. The international community must understand this is a serious setback to the peace process," he said Monday, calling for "strong anti-terrorist measures" against the Tamil Tigers.
The Tamil Tigers were among the first insurgents to use suicide bombings, and their movement remains on terrorist lists in five countries, including the United States and Britain.