|Thursday, 5 September 2002|
by Ravi Ladduwahetty and Manjula Fernando
The Government lifted the ban on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) with effect from midnight yesterday.
Defence Minister Tilak Marapana has told the weekly meeting of the Cabinet last night that the ban was being lifted, authoritative political sources told the Daily News late last night.
The relevant Gazette notification was due to be issued last night.
President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who has opposed a de-ban before the talks, was not present at the Cabinet meeting last evening, the sources said. The meeting has ended in 15 minutes.
The LTTE was banned in Sri Lanka on January 26, 1998. The Government recently announced that the ban would be lifted 10 days before the Norwegian-brokered talks start in Thailand on September 16.
LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and Chief Negotiator Anton Balasingham told a news conference in April that they would like to come for the talks as a legal entity.
Other countries have assured Sri Lanka that their bans on the LTTE would not be affected by a local deproscription.
Earlier yesterday, Presidential Spokesman Harim Peiris said President Kumaratunga was of the view that the ban should be lifted only when the talks are progressing well.
"We want the peace process to move forward...we want the talks to commence as scheduled," Peiris told a news conference. "We have said all along that the talks should be up and running before the ban is lifted...The LTTE should not be dogmatic and come for the talks."
People's Alliance sources said the President and the Prime Minister are yet to agree on a nominee of the President for possible participation in the Thailand talks.
Meanwhile, the four-member government delegation which will participate in the forthcoming peace talks in Sattahip, Thailand was confirmed by a top government official yesterday.
Enterprise Development, Industrial Policy, Investment Promotion and Constitutional Affairs Minister Prof.G.L.Peiris, Economic Reforms and Science and Technology Minister Milinda Moragoda and Ports, Shipping, Muslim Religious Affairs and Eastern Development Minister Rauf Hakeem and Director General Peace Secretariat Bernard Gunatilake will form the Government team, Prime Minister's Secretary Bradman Weerakoon told the Daily News.
He said Hakeem will participate as a Government member in the initial round of talks from September 16 to 18.
The LTTE has decided to send a four-man delegation led by Chief Negotiator Balasingham to the talks. The other members of the LTTE delegation will be V. Rudrakumar, the LTTE's legal advisor, Dr. Jay Maheswaran, a rehabilitation and development expert and Adele Balasingham, who will function as secretary.
The Thai Government has made arrangements for a ceremonial opening for the official talks on September 16. Diplomats based in Thailand will be invited for the opening sessions.
There will be formal statements from the Norwegian facilitators and the two teams of representatives from the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE at the opening ceremony.
The deliberations on the second and third days will be behind closed doors. The Norwegian government is to issue a statement at the end of the sessions on the final day.
The first round of talks will be allocated to prioritise the topics identified for discussion during the subsequent sessions. The parties have agreed to hold talks twice a month for the first five to six months.
The journey to Thailand started with the revival of the peace process with Norwegian facilitation by the UNF government in December 2001. Both sides declared unilateral ceasefires in December and signed an open-ended truce on February 22.
This was followed by the opening of the A9 highway that links the South to the North and the relaxation of travel restrictions.
Government and LTTE delegations have also held several round of "talks on talks" in Kilinochchi, London and Oslo, the most recent one being a meeting between Minister Hakeem and Balasingham in London. Prime Minister's Secretary Bradman Weerakoon met LTTE political wing chief S.P. Thamilchelvam in Kilinochchi last week.
Meanwhile, political sources said that the Cabinet had decided last night that the Government would proceed with the Draft Legislation if the amendments proposed by the President are not submitted at a Special Cabinet meeting next Monday (9).
Earlier, the President had wanted changes to the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and she had wanted time till next Monday.
Produced by Lake House