Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: Tokyo talks from March 18, priority for core political issues

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The shortened session of the Berlin peace talks ended on Saturday with the parties agreeing to advance to core political issues at the next round of talks in Japan from March 18.
Despite the tremors of a suicide blast which cast a cloud over the two days' talks the government and the LTTE agreed to commence discussion on the fiscal aspects of a federal structure at the next session in a display of maturity.

Despite the brevity of the current sessions the parties showed urgency to take up substantive political issues, Chief Government Negotiator G. L. Peiris told a media briefing that followed the peace talks. "We will be taking up the political dimension for the first time at the next round," Peiris told the media.

Questioned about the blast at Delft the chief government negotiator asserted that a negotiated settlement notwithstanding, the incident only demonstrated that the Forces were ready to protect the territorial sovereignty of the country.

His counterpart in the LTTE Dr. Anton Balasingham describing the incident as tragic denied that the cadres who blew themselves were smugglers adding that these were fishermen who refused to surrender to the Navy. "It was an act of defiance," Balasingham said.

He also denied that there was a "cache" of weapons in the trawler but for a 23 millimetre canon. "You must understand that although we have a fully-fledged Naval fleet these vessels are inoperative except to transport our cadres under SLMM supervision.

He said the gunboat went to rescue two fishing boats and were intercepted by the Navy on the way.

All parties have decided to meet in a few days to device measures to prevent a recurrence.

Balasingham responding to another question denied charges of child proscription and asserted that children who came to join the LTTE were handed over to rehabilitation centres. He said the LTTE had returned 350 children to their parents in the last six months and the process was continuing.

"We have worked out an action programme with the UNICEF to ensure there will be no further recruitment of children."

Asked for his response to similar pledges made by the LTTE not to recruit child soldiers and charges to the contrary, Balasingham admitted to certain violations but attributed these to the mischief of certain low-rung cadres who will be severely dealt with in the future.

Prof. Peiris maintained that the peace process was on a firm footing that cannot be shaken by few incidents. There would be no loss of confidence by the donor community as a result of the Delft incident, since they (donors) were aware that this was a step by step process.

Donor confidence won't be shaken by the incident since they are impressed with the structures for the implementation of the peace process both on the economic as well as the human rights front.

Peiris spoke of former Amnesty Secretary General Ian Martin's contribution on the topic of human rights at the Berlin sessions.

"Both parties entrusted him to draw up a comprehensive human rights programme with accent on enforcement by our own Human Rights Commission and an International Agency."