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No fixed agenda for talks: Colombo

V.S. Sambandan

LTTE wants dialogue confined to ceasefire agreement

WILL THE SMILES LAST?: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam leader, Velupillai Prabakaran (left), with Norwegian peace envoy Eric Solheim at the rebel-stronghold town of Kilinochchi, in this photo released by the LTTE on Wednesday. — PHOTO: AP

COLOMBO: The Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on Wednesday agreed to unconditional talks to discuss the implementation aspects of the ceasefire agreement in Switzerland next month, Nimal Siripala de Silva, the Government spokesperson on the peace process said.

"There were no conditions from either party. The peace process is back on track, our duty is to ensure that the peace process goes on smoothly," Mr. De Silva told a press conference on Wednesday evening in Colombo.

"The Government will ensure that this decision to resume negotiations is made a reality," Mr. De Silva said. Expressing the Government's "relief" over the agreement by the LTTE to resume talks, he said: "We have to start and ensure that we will make an environment conducive to the peace process."

Expressing the hope that the recent spiral of violence would end, Mr. De Silva said, "We are confident that the killings will stop now." Nearly 80 security forces personnel have been killed in escalated violence in the northern and eastern districts since December.

"There is no strict agenda as such" for the talks to be held in Switzerland, Mr. De Silva, who is also the Health Minister, said. The Government's negotiating team is to be announced later.

The LTTE's negotiating team, according to a report in the TamilNet, comprises its chief negotiator, Anton S. Balasingham, the political wing leader, S.P. Tamilselvan, the head of the "Tamil Eelam police force", B. Nadesan, the northern military commander, "Col." Jeyam, Adele Balasingham and the Batticaloa district political head, Ilanthirayan (also known as Marshall).

At a press conference in Kilinochchi, Mr. Balasingham said the talks would be confined to the "implementation of the ceasefire agreement." The LTTE's main demands include the disarming of "paramilitaries" in eastern Sri Lanka and the long-standing issue of the de-escalation of the northern high security zone.

Six rounds of direct talks between Colombo and the then Ranil Wickremesinghe administration ended in 2003 following the unilateral suspension of talks by the LTTE. Mr. De Silva said the next round of talks could be construed either as the seventh round of negotiations or the first round under the Mahinda Rajapakse Presidency. Mr. Rajapakse was elected President on November 17 last.

Expressing optimism on the prospects for peace, Mr. De Silva said the LTTE's decision to agree to Switzerland as the venue to resume talks was "a big relief to the Government and the civilians of this country."

While the Government and the Tigers had in principle agreed to hold negotiations to discuss implementation issues of the ceasefire agreement, there has been a deadlock over the venue over the past few months.

The Government, which initially said the talks should be held in Sri Lanka, subsequently agreed to negotiate in any Asian country.

The LTTE had said talks should be held either in rebel-held Sri Lanka or in Norway, preferably Oslo. Against that backdrop, Wednesday's decision marks a compromise by Colombo and the LTTE.

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