US expected to invite Tigers to Washington DC

by Shamindra Ferdinando
Speculation is rife about the US inviting the LTTE to take part in a crucial meeting in Washington DC next month despite it being among the groups including Al-Queda proscribed by the Bush administration as a part of its strategy against international terrorism.

The meeting scheduled to take place at the US State department on April 14 presided over by US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is expected to be attended by senior representatives of about 30 countries including India.

Top representatives of international lending agencies and humanitarian groups too would be present. Diplomatic sources said that India will not sit with Tigers. "India’s position remains the same," the sources said, reminding that New Delhi boycotted an earlier international parley in Oslo.

Official sources said the US has assured that the meeting will take place despite the Iraqi crisis. It will focus on the Oslo-led peace process and discuss ways and means of reaching a consensus on financial support for Sri Lanka before Japan hosts a conference on reconstruction and development in Tokyo in June. Chief government negotiator G. L. Peiris and Minister Milinda Moragoda, another key member in the delegation will be among the government representatives.

The LTTE is scheduled to attend the Tokyo parley, the sources said. But the US has repeatedly stressed that the LTTE will not be de-proscribed until the group renounce violence and prove its commitment to peace.

Referring to the recent sinking of an LTTE-owned tanker off Mullaitivu, the US last Tuesday urged the group to stop smuggling weapons. The incident almost scuttled the last session of negotiations in Hakone, Japan.

Tamil political sources pointed out that there was no point in having the Washington meeting without the LTTE’s participation. They were of the view that the group’s absence would make the whole exercise purposeless.

Critics were of the view a US invitation would give a tremendous propaganda victory for the group.

The World Bank recently set up a North-East Reconstruction Fund (NERF) to enable the international community to channel financial assistance to reconstruct and develop the North-East.