Colombo, Jan 3 (UNI) Amid fears that civil war with Tamil Tiger rebels will escalate after Sri Lanka scrapped the Norwegian-brokered Ceasefire Agreement, the government today said it will consider peace talks if the rebels laid down arms and came to the negotiating table.
Government spokesperson and Media Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa said the Cabinet decided to withdraw from the ceasefire last night as it did not want to be a party to a non-functioning ceasefire agreement.
''The government believes that it is useless to confine to this a non-functioning agreement, which has been violated by the LTTE a number of times. But this does not mean that we have shut the door for talks with anyone,'' Mr Yapa said.
''Under the present circumstances it is useless talking to the LTTE. But if they are prepared to lay down arms and come for talks in future, the government can reconsider its position,'' he said, expressing hopes that a political solution could be worked out through the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) in the near future.
Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayaka has been entrusted with the task of following the procedures of officially getting out of the truce.
The Norwegian facilitators expressed regret over the government's decision to pull out of the ceasefire agreement as it was likely to escalate the already existing violence in the island nation.
''I regret that the Government is taking this serious step,'' said Minister of the Environment and International Development, Erik Solheim, who served as a special envoy in the peace process.
''This comes on top of the increasingly frequent and brutal acts of violence perpetrated by both parties, and I am deeply concerned that the violence and hostilities will now escalate even further,'' Mr Solheim added.
The termination of the agreement will directly affect the Nordic Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), as its mandate is set out in the agreement and would necessarily have to withdraw the mission anytime soon.
''This would weaken efforts to protect the civilian population, which would be most regrettable,'' he said.
Norway was formally invited by former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and the LTTE to act as facilitator for the peace process in the country in 2002 and the invitation was renewed by President Rajapaksa in January 2006.
There was no immediate reaction from the Tigers although LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran had already said in his annual speech in November that the peace process was a waste of time and the ceasefire agreement faced its natural death.
Meanwhile independent think-tank National Peace Council said while there was a need to include non-LTTE Tamil parties in political talks, it could not be done at the cost of eliminating the LTTE from the dialogue.
''The danger inherent in the government's position, especially in the event of a total rejection of the past peace process with the LTTE, is that it is paving the way for a fight to the finish where the costs can be terribly high, success is not guaranteed, and no fall back position will be available,'' the National Peace Council said.
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