Norway breaks Sri Lanka peace deadlock, talks in Geneva
Updated: 2006-01-26 09:52
Norway broke a near three-year deadlock in Sri Lanka's peace talks by
clinching a deal with the warring parties to meet face-to-face in Geneva by
In Colombo, the beleaguered Sri Lankan government on Wednesday welcomed the
development as a "major relief" and hoped that the latest wave of violence that
has claimed at least 152 lives since December would come to an end.
The talks would focus on strengthening their ceasefire which was on the brink
of collapse after the surge in violence, envoy Erik Solheim told reporters in
this rebel-held political capital.
Solheim had a rare meeting with Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran who in
November put Colombo on notice to make a reasonable autonomy deal this year or
face re-igniting a separatist war.
The proposed meeting in mid February would be the first time that the two
sides have held talks since they left the negotiating table in April 2003.
Previous diplomatic efforts had failed to end the deadlock.
"This is a major relief to the
government and to the citizens of Sri Lanka," government spokesman Nimal
Siripala de Silva said in Colombo after Solheim briefed President Mahinda
Rajapakse on his latest success after meeting the Tigers.
Norwegian Minister of International
Development and Special peace envoy Erik Solheim (front), accompanied by
Tamil Tiger rebels and journalists, arrives to meet with rebel leaders in
Kilinochchi, northern Sri Lanka, January 25,
"We are confident that the killings will now stop," de Silva said adding that
the breakthrough had helped subside fears that the country could slip back to
its decades old separatist war which had claimed more than 60,000 lives.
The Norwegian envoy, who is also Oslo's international development minister,
travelled here after separate talks with Rajapakse Tuesday.
The envoy said Rajapakse was keen on a peace deal.
"He is eager to see peace in Sri Lanka," Solheim said of his talks with the
Norwegian special peace envoy, Erik Solheim
meets with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse (R) in Colombo.
He said the first ice-breaking meeting between Rajapakse's government, which
came to power in November, and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) would
be in Geneva.
"There may be a need for more meetings," Solheim said. "They would be held in
Switzerland or elsewhere in Europe."
He said the agenda for next month's meeting would be "to strengthen the
ceasefire agreement." There is a need "to create a climate that is conducive for
peace," he said.
Solheim also stressed the need to reduce attacks on the Norwegian-led Sri
Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), which suffered a bomb blast earlier this month.
The SLMM is monitoring the truce that went into force in February 2002.
"It was very, very difficult, if not impossible, to keep the ceasefire"
unless attacks are stopped, Solheim said. "Every possible measure must be taken
to guarantee the security of the SLMM."
Asked if both sides had agreed to stop the latest wave of violence, Solheim
replied: "The agreement between the two parties will have to be made at the
LTTE's chief negotiator Anton Balasingham said they wanted talks with the new
government as soon as possible but also sought an end to violence.
London-based Balasingham, who flew in here on Monday to join the
Solheim-Prabhakaran talks, said the LTTE would discuss with Colombo only about
implementing the truce.
He ruled out amending or re-negotiating the ceasefire as demanded by
nationalist coalition partners in Rajapakse's government. Rajapakse Wednesday
won support from four opposition legislators who defected to his side reducing
his dependency on hard-line nationalist legislators.
Balasingham said they pledged that the Tigers would not resort to violence.
"It is extremely important for the government to take urgent measures to
instruct its armed forces to cease acts of violence against civilians and the
LTTE," Balasingham told reporters after Solheim had left.
He also called on the government to halt "paramilitary" violence against
Tamil people and the LTTE.
The Tigers have accused the government of supporting a breakaway faction to
carry out attacks against the mainstream LTTE.
Prior to meeting Prabhakaran, Solheim said he was unsure if bombings late
Tuesday in Colombo, 330 kilometres (205 miles) south of here, were aimed at
derailing his peace effort.
"I have no way of knowing whether they are politically motivated or not," he
On the eve of his visit, five simultaneous explosions rocked Colombo,
prompting suspicion from police sources that Tigers were responsible. There were