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Lanka truce talks spotlight on India
Peace role in place: Norway emissary

New Delhi, Nov. 18: Norway had not withdrawn from the Sri Lanka peace process, the facilitator for the talks between Colombo and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Erik Solheim, claimed here today, denying reports to the contrary.

“We have only put ourselves on hold. We continue to be in close touch with all parties to the dispute and the ceasefire monitors are still in place to ensure that the situation is not allowed to get out of control,” he said at a luncheon meeting hosted in his honour by Rajya Sabha MP Swaraj Kaushal.

The Norwegian facilitator, who is currently in Delhi, hoped that the peace process would resume in the near future as “the present crisis has shown that the vast majority of Sri Lankans are for peace”.

Solheim claimed that contrary to the popular perception that the Norwegians briefed the US first about the Colombo-LTTE peace talks, it was India which was kept in the picture throughout. “We inform India of everything and the US of a few things,” he quipped.

He thanked India for its “long-standing support” to the peace process and said: “We know that we cannot succeed without the support of India.”

Although it does not want to be involved in the details of the peace process, “India was kept informed all through by us.”

Solheim ruled out the creation of a new state for Sri Lankan Tamils as a result of the peace negotiations. “The creation of a new state does not have the support of the international community. Most importantly, India is against it. The international community is not going to upset India over a few million Sri Lankan Tamils.”

The peace talks themselves, Solheim explained, were the result of a stalemate. Neither side was in a position to get what it wanted — the LTTE cannot get Eelam and the Sinhalese cannot finish off the Tamils. “Because neither side can win, there are negotiations,” he said.

Why had Anton Balasingham, who was believed to have a moderating influence on the peace process, suddenly been removed from the talks by the LTTE and replaced by Tamilchelvam' “Balasingham has health problems (he has had a kidney transplant and suffers from diabetes). My understanding is that he has removed himself from the peace talks as he found it difficult to go frequently to the Vanni forests to meet Prabhakaran. But indications are that he could be back in the peace process soon. There is already talk of his drafting the Heroes’ Day speech of the LTTE chief due in nine days,” Solheim said.

Solheim said he was aware of India’s worries about the LTTE wanting full control of the territorial waters and marine resources in the sea adjoining the Sri Lankan north-east. However, he claimed that the LTTE’s proposals were neither acceptable to the Sinhalese political leadership nor to India.

However, he clarified: “The LTTE has never said that this is an ultimatum. They recognise the negotiations as a process and have stated their position.”

He agreed that the LTTE proposals made no mention of any role of the Centre and were aimed at maximising the powers for the Tamil-dominated north-east. “Colombo may also want guarantees for the rights of the minorities in the north-east —Muslims, Sinhalese and Tamils who do not support the LTTE. It is now for the Sri Lanka government to come up with counter proposals which would put all these issues within the framework of the Constitution,” he felt.

What was clear as of now, according to Solheim, was that the positions being taken by President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe could not be accommodated at the same time. “Norway has no position on this issue,” Solheim said.

“It would resume facilitating the peace talks with the LTTE once it is clear who was in-charge in Colombo,” he added.

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