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DateLine Sunday, 22 April 2007

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Government Gazette

Suggestions, demands, options... Is it time for talks again?

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Dr. Palitha Kohona


C. Chandra Nehru MP

There are fresh hopes for peace talks as Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar meets LTTE Chief negotiator S. P. Thamilselvan in Killinochchi tomorrow. We spoke to the Head of the Government's Peace Secretariat, Dr. Palitha Kohona, who is also the Foreign Secretary and the Tamil National Alliance Parliamentarian for Ampara District, C. Chandra Nehru.

Q: The Government has been expressing its desire to resume peace talks at any time. Finally the LTTE has responded to it. Isn't that a positive sign?

P.K.: We have had no response for peace talks from the LTTE. There has been no formal response, other than a report in a newspaper. I don't think the Government should respond to a report in a newspaper. Neither the SLMM nor Norway has indicated anything to that effect.

C.C.: The LTTE is ready to talk on peace. They always wanted to find a negotiated settlement. Unfortunately, they were forced to fight. The Government want to go for peace talks only to retain international opinion in their favour and get advantage.

Q: Why do you think the LTTE decided to go back to the negotiating table at this juncture?

P.K.: As I said earlier, the LTTE has not done so. We have always expressed our desire to go back to the negotiating table. But as far as I know, the LTTE has not shown any interest in going back to peace talks. We won't respond to websites and newspapers. There are recognised channels. But so far, there has been no formal communication.

C.C.: Not only at this juncture, the LTTE has always expressed its willingness to go back to the negotiating table. They do not want to fight if they could find a reasonable solution to Tamils in the North and East though a dialogue.

Q: The LTTE has always made use of peace talks to regroup, strengthen and re-position. Especially when they suffer military setbacks, they have a tendency of doing so.

P.K.: Of course, in the past they have always done so to regroup and strengthen themselves. They used various cessations of hostilities as well as negotiation periods for that purpose. Such history of the LTTE is well known and open for debate. Now, they have to come out and prove their genuine interest, seriousness and commitment for peace.

C.C.: That is only the view of the Government. They have been doing so and accusing the LTTE so show that the Government is stronger. This is not the time to show who is strong and weak. Whoever is willing for a lasting peace is strong enough for national development.

Q: The Government has categorically stated that the LTTE would continue to be treated as a terrorist organisation and would be dealt with accordingly. Will this have any impact on upcoming peace talks?

P.K.: There are no upcoming peace talks. As I said very clearly, there is no response whatsoever from the LTTE. As long as the LTTE negotiate with a commitment, we will negotiate with them. But if they undertake any action that would harm Sri Lanka's national security, we will have to take appropriate action.

C.C.: Yes. Unless the Government differentiates terrorism from the reasons for the agitations of the Tamils and stop 'state terrorism', there won't be any peace. The Government has to stop its actions against the LTTE while the negotiations are going on.

Q: Most major political parties are of the view that terrorism and peace talks are two different subjects. Do you think that terrorism should be suppressed while we go for a negotiated settlement for the problem in the North?

P.K.: We will continue to keep faith on a negotiated solution. His Excellency the President has said that over and over.

C.C.: We too believe that peace and terrorism cannot go hand in hand. They cannot go together. There is no need to prepare for any war if there are sincere peace negotiations taking place.

Q: Do you think both parties should go back to the negotiating table without any preconditions that may harm the smooth progress?

P.K.: That is too a theoretical question. Why talk on those matters even before we go to the negotiating table. What is important is that we go to the negotiating table with the view of achieving an honourable peace.

C.C.: It was done earlier on many occasions. But what happened? The negotiations were hampered. If this is done with sincerity, we could achieve results. If the Government comes out genuinely to solve the ethnic conflict, we could achieve position results at the negotiating table.

Q: What contributions could the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) make towards the success of future peace talks and find a lasting solution to the problem?

P.K.: The great position is that it would address and remains committed to concerns of minorities through the APRC - especially the Tamil minority. We hope that the proposals that the APRC would be putting forward will help in the devolution of power within united Sri Lanka.

C.C.: All parties involved at the APRC should understand genuine problems faced by the Tamil community. They should also accept the fact that the rights of Tamils were deprived. All parties involved should make their own proposals without any communal enmity.

Q: What is the fate of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA)? Is the CFA, which has been violated on numerous occasions, going to help any future peace talks?

P.K.: Any future peace talks will not be based on the Ceasefire Agreement. These will only be based on the objective of achieving an honourable and a sustainable peace. That is our stand.

C.C.: Yes. On many occasions by the Government as the Forces don't understand the importance of the Ceasefire Agreement signed in 2002. They should understand the consequences that all of us will have to face each time they break the CFA.

Q: What proposals have your party made or planning to make as a solution to the problem?

P.K.: We understand that these proposals are at a very mature stage. You have to understand that this is a political process. It would take time. There are many political parties interested in this process. Hence, it is important that we give adequate and reasonable time for those political parties to come out with their proposals.

C.C.: Our party has found a solution 50 years ago. The federal system was proposed by our late leader S. J. V. Chelvanayagam nearly five decades ago. But the Government rejected it at that time. Now, the present Government is concentrating on that to find a solution to the conflict.

Q: What type of a development plan is needed for the North and the East thereafter?

P.K.: The Government's development plan is already in motion. The Government has implemented several development programs in the North and East. An accelerated development plan is ready. The development plan has not lagged behind, waiting for a final solution.

C.C.: The North and East will have to be amalgamated first. The problems faced by the Tamils and Tamil-speaking Muslims have to be recognised and answered urgently. Then, the Government must go ahead with planned development projects. If there is no peace, there won't be any development.

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