The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi cautious on Tiger talks

New Delhi, Sept. 19: India today welcomed the successful completion of talks between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, but advised caution on the LTTE’s assurance that it was willing to give up the demand for a separate state and settle for autonomy for the Tamil minority.

South Block mandarins are not sure whether the LTTE is making a fundamental shift from its stated policy on a separate state or was forced to make a tactical shift because of the changed world situation after the terrorist attacks in the US last year, which has made it difficult for groups like the Tamil Tigers to justify violent movements.

To keep India abreast of the first round of talks that ended in Thailand on Wednesday, Eric Solheim, the Norwegian government’s representative whose initiative facilitated the negotiations between the Tigers and Colombo, would arrive here tomorrow to brief foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.

Though South Block maintained that Solheim’s visit here tomorrow should not be linked to the talks in Thailand, it was clear that neither the Sri Lankan government nor Norway would like to move ahead without informing India. All parties involved in the negotiations have realised that the peace initiative in the island would not be successful without Delhi’s active support.

“We are always in support of a peaceful and negotiated settlement in Sri Lanka that meets the aspirations of the elements in the island. We are for restoration of peace in the island. But we want this solution to be found by keeping intact the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao.

Tamil Tigers have been fighting a bloody war with the Sri Lankan government for a separate state to be carved out of the north and east of the island. But the LTTE’s chief negotiator, Anton Balasingham, said yesterday his organisation was now pushing for “substantial autonomy” within a homeland. This has been seen as a major shift in the organisation’s stand by many commentators.

However, India, which has burnt its fingers trying to find peace in Sri Lanka, appears to have adopted a cautious approach and has avoided jumping to conclusions.

A senior official in South Block said it would be “premature” to start welcoming the shift in the Tiger’s stand.

Though India is happy over the successful completion of the first round of talks, the official pointed out that there were three more rounds to go before a conclusion could be drawn.

“Balasingham had made such statements also in the past,” the official said, advising caution on the LTTE leader’s remarks. It was argued that though the Tigers have spoken about pushing for “substantial autonomy” it does not mean that they have given up the demand for a separate state.

It was pointed out that the first round of talks between the two sides did not discuss many important issues like the one pertaining to the country’s constitution or the fate of Muslims in the island. The top priority, however, seems to be pushing for the de-mining programme and accelerating the rehabilitation of those displaced during the ethnic strife in the island.

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