|Tuesday, 17 September 2002|
From Rodney Martinesz in Thailand
Sattahip, Tuesday: The first day in the preliminary round peace talks between the Government and the LTTE concluded on a propitious note with all indications that the latter would not deviate from the path of negotiations in working out a solution to end the conflict, Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris who heads the Government delegation told the Daily News last night.
There was hope, expectation and cautious optimism as the much awaited peace talks between the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) got off the ground at a grand inauguration in Pattaya at 9.30 a.m. local time.
The talks held at the high security Sattahip Naval base was held in a cordial atmosphere where the parties made a detailed overview of the peace process so far.
Prof. Peiris said the consensus was that a long way had yet to be traversed before the ultimate goal of permanent peace could be achieved.
However the LTTE chief negotiator and head of delegation Dr. Anton Balasingham was optimistic that the present initiative could be taken forward especially in the light of Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe's commitment to a negotiated settlement.
Asked if anything concrete was arrived at in the opening day of talks Prof. Peiris said he could not reveal specific details as already agreed to by both parties who will host a joint media briefing, where this will be done.
He said progress of the talks would be measured at the end of each day's discussion and that a clear picture would emerge by the 18th, the final day of the initial round of talks.
The Government delegation comprises Ministers Prof. G. L. Peiris, Milinda Moragoda, Rauf Hakeem and Bernard Gunatilake while the LTTE is represented by Dr. Anton Balasingham, Adele Balasingham, V. Rudrakumaran (Legal Advisor) and Dr. Jay Maheswaran.
The opening ceremony telecast to a world audience from the Chantaburi Room of the sprawling Ambassador City Jomtien Hotel was significant for the presence of a large number of foreign Heads of mission to whose countries appeals have been made for development aid to the war ravaged areas.
This is the fourth occasion the parties meet at face-to-face talks and the second attempt at an overseas venue since the aborted Thimpu sessions in 1985.
At the inauguration, in a statesman like address Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris told the world audience that the rancour that beset the two major communities was being banished. Lankans had resolved with a firm conviction that a sea change was necessary "now that the tempests have abated".
Acknowledging that both sides have a problem, the Lankan Head of the delegation noted the need to shun a confrontational approach and work with candour in the sharing of perspectives, insights and information in the process that lay ahead.
He also dwelt on the changes that was evident since the ceasefire agreement, making special mention of the role of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who held fast to his cause of national reunification amidst tremendous adversity.
LTTE's Chief negotiator Anton Balasingham expressed optimism that peace talks will succeed since both Velupillai Prabhakaran and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe " have a genuine will and firm determination to resolve the conflict through the process of dialogue".
"As far as the Liberation Tigers are concerned, I can assure you that we are seriously and sincerely committed to peace and that we will strive our utmost to ensure the success of the negotiations," the head of the LTTE delegation said.
He also accused the previous regime of plunging the country into an abyss with its incredible military theory that war begets peace. "The situation has changed with the assumption to power of the new government with the overwhelming popular mandate for peace and negotiated political settlement."
Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen whose country plays the role of facilitator noted that similar to the long and at times thorny process the parties underwent to get this far, no less difficult times were ahead. "The parties will confront problems that can only resolved through painstaking effort and painful compromise," he said.
According to information received by the Daily News the parties will take up the question of rehabilitation and reconstruction of the devastated area, ways to tackle the ceasefire violations and possibly the topic of the Interim Administration at today's first round of talks.
Meanwhile, the opening of peace talks between the Government and LTTE received wide coverage in the Thai National press with no less a publication than the Bangkok Post reserving its editorial to the unfolding peace negotiations.
It said : "Three days of talks will not bring lasting peace. They will not settle the main issue of rebel demands of Independence of self Government. Yet the indications are that both the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil Tigers have had enough of their war. This would mean that the Thailand talks will quickly get down to business and vital issues."
The same newspaper in a wide spread in its editorial page carried an article written by Anurej Manibhandu titled "an opinion and analysis on the current peace effort".
"If Thailand plays its cards right negotiations could return here (Thailand) again and again. Thailand is something of an old hand at facilitating peace talks, having brought together four rival Cambodian factions for discussions in Pattaya just over a decade ago that led to the settlement sealed in October 1991," he wrote.
Produced by Lake House