Date: 24 Feb 2006
by Amal Jayasinghe
CELIGNY, Switzerland, Feb 24, 2006 (AFP) - Tamil Tiger rebels extracted an agreement from Sri Lanka to uphold a controversial truce after threatening to walk out of talks, the top rebel negotiator told AFP.
The rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said they were ready to storm out of discussions in a chateau in this Swiss village when Colombo insisted on amending the Norwegian-brokered 2002 truce.
The LTTE's chief negotiator Anton Balasingham said he told his government counterpart Nimal Siripala de Silva that the Tigers would not agree to tinker with the ceasefire agreement, something demanded by Colombo's new administration.
Balasingham told AFP that he said to his opposite number: "If you are questioning the validity of the ceasefire agreement, then we will walk out."
"From our side it is a success. What we wanted was a commitment from the government to implement the ceasefire," Balasingham said in an interview with AFP Friday morning at the 18th-century Chateau de Bossey, which overlooks Lake Geneva.
He was speaking just hours after the two sides agreed over two days of talks to stop violence and decided to meet again here in April.
"We had told the Norwegians also that we will talk only about implementing the agreement," he said.
"On the first day we could not agree on the agenda because the government wanted to take up revising or amending the ceasefire. We firmly said no. The government's chief negotiator said the ceasefire was seriously flawed and they want to revise it.
"What we told them is that this ceasefire is not just a document between two parties. Five Nordic countries monitoring the ceasefire are involved. The international community is involved. We can't just tear it up."
A Sri Lankan government delegate admitted that there were differences but played down the Tiger threat to storm out.
However, Balasingham said the government ate humble pie and climbed down on the issue of militias that allegedly receive the backing of Sri Lankan security forces to attack the Tigers.
"The government has agreed to implement a clause in the agreement in relation to the paramilitary groups. This is a good sign," Balasingham said.
The Tigers faced an unprecedented split in March 2004 and the main rebel group has since accused Colombo of backing the breakaway faction.
Balasingham said although the just concluded Swiss talks focused only on issues relating to the truce, they were also ready to take up contentious political matters at a later date.
He said both the new government of President Mahinda Rajapakse and the Tigers were poles apart on a political settlement. Colombo wants an accord within a "unitary state," while the Tigers are seeking at least a federal system.
"Both parties are living in two different ideological universes," Balasingham said.
Full blown political negotiations were still not on the horizon although they have not been ruled out. Balasingham said the pace of political talks could be dictated by the improvement of security on the ground.
Some 153 people were killed in a spike of violence between December and January, before Norway's top peace envoy Erik Solheim clinched a deal for both warring parties to meet here and save their truce.
In a brief joint statement late Thursday, the two sides said they had agreed to stop the cycle of violence but later gave separate press conferences underscoring the lack of confidence between them.
More than 60,000 people have been killed in Sri Lanka's three-decade ethnic conflict, which has seen the Tigers battle for independence for the country's Tamil minority. Four previous peace attempts have ended in failure.
Copyright (c) 2006 Agence France-PresseReceived by NewsEdge Insight: 02/24/2006 08:21:18