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Akashi hails President's peace moves

by Manjula Fernando

Japanese Special envoy Yasushi Akashi said he was impressed by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga's commitment to re-commence negotiations with the LTTE.

"My talks with President Kumaratunga on Friday gave me a strong impression that she was committed to make efforts towards resuming peace talks," Akashi told the media in Colombo yesterday.

Ending a week-long busy program in Sri Lanka yesterday, Akashi pledged the international community's unwavering support for the peace initiative adding that the implementation of the National Advisory Council on Peace and Reconciliation was a another positive move towards peace.

A lot of progress has been made since my first visit to Colombo in March this year, towards the resumption of peace talks although it is not visible, Akashi said, adding that he was briefed on this issue by all stakeholders.

"Nobody wants to return to war. There is strong yearning for moving towards a better situation."

He said the US $ 4.5 billion funds pledged at the Tokyo donor conference in June last year has already started to flow in and with more progress in the peace front the donor countries may even consider further assistance.

"Tokyo funds are not entirely at the mercy of the peace process. It is not kept in a safe to be utilised in future," Akashi said adding that already a number of projects pledged in Tokyo has got off the ground last year. The special envoy expressed optimism that there will be positive developments towards breaking the deadlock following the LTTE's European tour during which they have had discussions with government officials, constitutional lawyers and other experts in nine countries, gaining a knowledge of additional options and ideas of interim governing bodies.

"For a number of reasons neither party seems to be willing to make the first move," he said adding that however, he detected a certain flexibility on the part of the Government to resume negotiations.

"We were somewhat disturbed by the slow progress, but I have now been informed by all stake holders, the government, LTTE and the facilitators the Norwegian Government of the work that had taken place so far," he added.

The special envoy will return via New Delhi to brief Indian leaders of the discussions held in Sri Lanka.

"That is part of our Asian policy," he said. In response to media queries, on the proposed India Sri Lanka defence agreement Akashi maintained that it was a non-aggressive pact between the two nations that covers training and surveillance of high seas.

Akashi called on President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga at the President's House on Friday evening.

During the one and half hour discussion, President Kumaratunga emphasised the importance of early resumption of peace talks between the government and the LTTE. Akashi also held discussions with the LTTE representatives in Kilinochchi to explore the possibilities of resuming peace talks soon.

The LTTE had briefed Akashi on the present status of the peace process and also the outcome of their European visit.

During the meeting the special envoy has conveyed the Government's commitment towards resuming peace talks as soon as possible.

He also met Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, a group of TNA MPs, Minister Douglas Devananda, JVP propaganda secretary Wimal Weerawansa, Peace Secretariat Chief Jayantha Dhanapala and SLMM representatives. He also visited Trincomalee and Batticaloa where he met representatives of all communities and the Security Forces.

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