|Friday, 14 March 2003|
|Security||Today's Top Story|
by Ranil Wijayapala and Ranga Jayasuriya
The LTTE threatened to boycott the sixth round of peace talks in Hakone in protest over the Mullaitivu incident but later opted to reconsider the decision when the LTTE hierarchy met the visiting Norwegian delegation yesterday.
The visiting Norwegian delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen met LTTE theoretician and Chief Negotiator Anton Balasingham and political chief Thamilselvam in Kilinochchi for preparatory talks on the sixth round of peace negotiations in Hakone from March 18 to 21.
"Balasingham told the Norwegians that the LTTE will boycott the next round of peace talks to protest the sinking of the LTTE vessel off Mullaitivu," LTTE spokesman Daya Master told the Daily News.
"But when Helgesen kept on requesting LTTE participation in the talks Balasingham promised the LTTE would reconsider their position". Balasingham said he would pass the request to Prabhakaran who has the final say," the LTTE spokesman said.
"Balasingham expressed hope that Prabhakaran would give the green light (for talks)".
Meanwhile diplomatic sources told the Daily News that Helgesen was "pressing " the LTTE leadership to ensure participation in the Hakone talks.
"Helgesen stressed that an LTTE boycott of the Hakone talks will have negative consequences on the peace process. He emphasised that existing difficulties can only be overcome through negotiations".
Prabhakaran did not meet the Norwegian delegation since he was attending an "extraordinary central committee meeting", sources said.
Helgesen during his meeting with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Kandy on Wednesday discussed the future of the peace process and the role of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission.
Peace Secretariat Chief Bernard Goonatilleke told the Daily News that the delegation also had discussions with the Premier about Monday's incident in the sea off Mullaitivu.
However, Goonetilleke added that more important issues will be discussed after the delegation's discussions with the LTTE in Kilinochchi.
Helgesen also met President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga last afternoon at the President House.
During the meeting, the President reiterated her commitment to a negotiated settlement to the ethnic conflict, while expressing concern at certain developments which have raised questions about the LTTE's willingness to adhere to the ceasefire agreement, a media release by the Presidential Secretariat said.
"Foremost among them were the arms smuggling, conscription of children, LTTE's lack of commitment to human rights and its failure to began any discussions on crucial issues of the political settlement," the release said.
The President had said the Government, Norwegians and the donor community should take up these matters at the forthcoming talks in Japan.
Meanwhile, SLMM Deputy Head Hagrup Haukland said they will be able to reach a conclusion over the sinking of the LTTE vessel by Saturday or Sunday.
The LTTE told its version of the incident to SLMM Chief Tryggve Tellefsen when he met LTTE hierarchy in Kilinochchi on Wednesday.
The SLMM is still probing the Mullaitivu incident with a team deployed in Trincomalee having been in contact with the Northern Naval Commander.
SLMM spokesman Teitur Torkelsson said the monitors would receive video tapes of the incident today from the Navy.
"We doubt whether the entire incident had been videoed, but hopefully it will provide valuable insights into the incident".
The SLMM team in Trincomalee will be in contact with the Northern Naval Commander to get first hand information from the Navy.
"The Naval vessel involved in the attack has been brought to the Naval Base in Colombo and a SLMM team will inspect the vessel tomorrow to finalise their inquiry," he said.
According to preliminary investigations, there 16 bullet marks in the Naval vessel apparently caused by a 12.5 mm heavy machine gun.
When asked about the weapons carried in the ill-fated vessel, the LTTE leadership had told that the crew carried a few light weapons to protect themselves from pirates, Torkelsson said.
Produced by Lake House