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We won't abandon peace process, says Helgesen

by Uditha Kumarasinghe and Asanga Warnakulasuriya

Norway has no intention of abandoning the peace process, Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen said yesterday.

"We have received very clear assurances that the Ceasefire Agreement will be respected including freedom of movement for LTTE cadres and the Sri Lankan Armed Forces have been instructed to continue extending their fullest co-operation to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission," Helgesen told a media briefing in Colombo.

Helgesen said President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga wanted Norway to continue its role in the peace process.

At a discussion held with the Prime Minister on Thursday, the Premier has said that, he is presently not in a position to provide a guarantee for the peace process."

"We have conveyed this to the President as she is the Commander-in- Chief and Minister of Defence. The President has made it very clear that the instructions have been given to the armed forces to continue to respect the ceasefire agreement, co-ordinating with the SLMM. The President had confirmed her commitment to the ceasefire agreement, Helgesen added.

"We will convey to the LTTE that the ceasefire agreement stands and we have the security guarantee that the LTTE wanted. But the single impediment is the political crisis in the South."

He said Norway will continue as a facilitator, provided that there is clarity about who is holding responsibility on the Government side. Until such clarity is re-established, there is no space for further efforts by the Norwegian Government to assist the two parties in making further progress in the peace process, he added.

"As far as our mandate goes, we have one clear conclusion: peace talks could have started tomorrow, provided there was clarity about who is holding responsibility on behalf of the Government for the continuation of the Ceasefire Agreement. Until last week there was such clarity. Today there is no such clarity," he told the journalists.

"In spite of the difficulties in the process and the suspension of talks, the Sri Lankan peace process in itself is in a fundamentally good shape. Talks have not been held for nearly six months, but the ceasefire agreement has stood the test of a sudden breakdown of talks. This itself is an achievement. Unlike in other countries, the breakdown of talks has not led to the resumption of war."

Referring to their meeting with LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in the Wanni, Helgesen said they were asked for a guarantee that the Ceasefire Agreement will be respected.

In particular, Prabhakaran wanted an assurance that the freedom and safety of movement for political cadres in Government-held areas will be respected. Prabhakaran informed us that he will be patient until the political situation in the South has been clarified to resume the peace talks.

"Since last week, developments that are not part and parcel of the peace process have changed this picture dramatically. The resumption of peace talks has been seriously impeded by the political crisis. This has disturbed the peace process and it has caused considerable concern in the international community.

He warned that "the peace process might be made fragile" even though most concerned parties and politicians pledge their commitment to upholding the ceasefire.

"We need to make clear that the ceasefire will be much more difficult to sustain in a political vacuum. If progress in the political negotiations is made impossible, the ceasefire will become increasingly fragile." He said it is impossible to function as a facilitator unless there is a clear framework within which they can operate and unless the framework is stable we cannot be subjected to new guidelines. We cannot be subjected to the political foul play in South which we are determine not to be engaged in.

He stressed that Norway has nothing to do with the political crisis in South, he said. "We will now go home and wait. We believe in this peace process and we cannot do anything about the single issue that is impeding the progress of the peace process."

"We have prepared certain conditions to go ahead, but in the present political situation we cannot bring the parties to the negotiating table. Everything is actually ready for going back to the negotiation table.

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