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Lanka optimistic of Geneva talks with Norway's fresh bid

By Staff
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Colombo, Apr 19 (UNI) Sri Lanka today expressed optimism that the rescheduled direct talks with the Tamil Tigers would take place in Geneva with the Norwegian facilitators working hard to salvage the faltering peace process and the ceasefire agreement.

"The government is on schedule and making all arrangements to be there in Geneva on the second arranged date for talks (April 24-25).

We are optimistic that the talks will go on," Minister of Plan Implementation, Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters here today.

The government optimism has come despite LTTE's announcement on Sunday that they suspended their participation at the proposed direct talks in Geneva rescheduled to be held on April 24 and 25, "until the hurdles" in relation with the travelling of its eastern commanders to the Wanni for meeting with the rebel leadership "are removed".

However, Minister Rambukwella said although there were reports to indicate that the LTTE was not going to participate at the Geneva talks on April 24, "the government has not got any official intimation either by the LTTE or by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM)".

Minister Rambukwella further said that the government has done everything "beyond its limitations" to keep to its commitment to the ceasefire agreement as well as the joint statement issued after the Geneva talks in mid-February, in which the government has agreed to control the armed group and the LTTE agreed to stop attack on the government forces.

Referring to the latest stand-off between the Government and the LTTE on providing transportation to its commanders to travel to Wanni, Minister Rambukwella, who is also the government's spokesman on defence affairs, said Colombo had agreed to a proposal by the SLMM to permit the LTTE to fly in "private helicopters." He said that the rebels would have to make a decision whether or not to make use of it within the next 72 hours.

Meanwhile, Norway's special peace envoy, Jon Hanssen-Bauer, who arrived in Colombo yesterday on an unscheduled visit, held extensive discussions with the Prime Minister Ratnasri Wickremanayake, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and officials of the government peace secretariat today.

He is flying to the rebel-held Kilinochchi region tomorrow for yet another decisive discussion with LTTE's political wing head, S.P.

Thamilselvan, on salvaging the shaky process.

Over 50 security forces personnel and civilians have been killed during the past couple of weeks in the stepped-up attacks on government security forces by the suspected LTTE cadres. The LTTE too have accused the government of using the "deep penetration unit" of the army for placing claymore mines in the areas controlled by them.

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