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Lanka rivals work on formula

Colombo, Nov. 13: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have asked the Norwegian mediators to guarantee that the Sri Lankan government would continue its commitment to the ceasefire which has kept the peace in the island since February 2002.

In a meeting with Norwegian deputy foreign minister Vidar Helgesen at the LTTE’s Killinochi stronghold today, the Tamil Tiger chief, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, said he also wanted safeguards for his “political activists” operating in areas controlled by the Sri Lankan army in the Tamil-dominated northern and eastern provinces.

Prabhakaran made it clear that the Tigers were committed to the peace process. However, differences between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had derailed the peace talks.

“Prabhakaran told the Norwegian delegation that unity regarding the peace process should emerge among the leaders of the south. The LTTE should have a clear idea with whom it had to continue the peace talks.

“The crisis and confusion in the south has undermined the trust the Tamil people had in the peace process,” the leader of the LTTE’s political wing and the chief negotiator for the Tigers, Tamilchelvan, was quoted as saying in the official Tamil Tiger website.

The LTTE has now put the ball firmly in the Sri Lankan government’s court. Their message seems to have sunk in as the two leaders are now seriously trying to resolve their differences.

Even though no concrete result emerged from yesterday’s two-and-a-half-hour meeting between Kumaratunga and Wickremesinghe, there was an agreement to continue the talks at a second meeting. Aides from both camps are now trying to work out a formula acceptable to Kumaratunga and Wickremesinghe.

The initial framework of the proposed agreement suggests that the President retain the defence portfolio while returning the information and interior ministries back to the cabinet.

It was also suggested that some of Kumaratunga’s People’s Alliance members would join the government which will continue to be headed by Wickremesinghe. The two sides would draw up a common agenda to work with within a given framework for a year or two.

Wickremesinghe’s United National Front would have a deputy defence minister running the day-to-day affairs of the ministry.

A senior aide to the Prime Minister said this was essential for the ceasefire to hold in the north and the east.

Unless the soldiers are convinced that the government and the President are united over the peace process, it would be impossible to prevent minor incidents flaring up into full-fledged confrontations between the LTTE cadre and the Sri Lankan army.

There is no guarantee that Kumaratunga and Wickremesinghe will finally find a solution. But both leaders are under pressure to bury their differences by the US, India, UK, France and the Nordic countries.

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