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Prabhakaran assures Norwegians: LTTE committed to peace process

by Ranil Wijayapala and Ranga Jayasuriya

LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran yesterday assured the Norwegian facilitators that the Tigers remain committed to the peace process and the ceasefire but insisted that political instability in the South must end for the peace talks to resume.

Meeting Norwegian facilitators Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen and special envoy Erik Solheim in Kilinochchi, Prabhakaran reaffirmed the Tigers' commitment to the negotiations and asked for a security guarantee for the movement's political offices in the Government controlled areas and an assurance for the LTTE to continue the truce agreement which the Norwegians granted, LTTE political chief S.P. Thamilselvam later told reporters.

"Our leader stressed LTTE's commitment to a negotiated settlement, and expressed our concerns about the power struggle in the South," Thamilselvam was quoted as telling reporters. "He told the facilitators that political stability in the South is a must for the peace talks to continue".

Thamilselvam said the Tigers' commitment to a negotiated settlement is total. "We don't want a war"

Helgesen and Solheim yesterday met the Tiger chief in Kilinochchi for talks ranging from the peace process to the political turmoil in the South. The two Norwegian facilitators flew to Kilinochchi by an Air Force helicopter. They were whisked away to a secret location at Kilinochchi to meet Prabhakaran.

"The LTTE position is that talks should resume as soon as possible," a Kilinochchi datelined Reuters report quoted Helgesen as saying following his meeting with the Tiger chief.

The Norwegian facilitators were expected to meet the President and the Prime Minister on their return last evening. The facilitators, who met them on Tuesday and Wednesday, will update the two leaders on the outcome of the meeting. Prabhakaran's pronouncement which came a week after the President's takeover of three ministries ends an uneasy silence over the future of the peace process.

The Tigers have been tight-lipped over the political turmoil since its outset. The only comment came from Tigers' Eastern military chief "colonel" Karuna who said the President was sabotaging the peace process.

"Like smashing the pot when the milk in it is churning into butter, the Sri Lankan President has sabotaged the peace process at a crucial time," Karuna was quoted as saying.

The Norwegian facilitators were to make arrangements for a preliminary meeting between the Government and the LTTE, when the political crisis began. But the original objective was omitted from the schedule as the visit was overshadowed by the political crisis.

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