Tigers must agree to Indian role: SLMM

by Shamindra Ferdinando
A change in the composition of the Norwegian-led SLMM to include India as demanded by the joint opposition will not be possible unless the Tigers agree to alter the cease-fire agreement.

The monitoring mission was based on the truce agreement, an SLMM spokesman said. "Modifications are not viable without all parties to the agreement reaching consensus on them," he said.

The opposition wants at least three more countries including India to join the SLMM to monitor what it described as unlawful LTTE activities at sea. Opposition leaders have repeatedly accused the mission of favouring the LTTE while placing the armed forces at a considerable disadvantage and rendering Tamil political parties like the EPDP vulnerable to Tigers.

"Under the agreement, the monitoring mission has to be headed by a person chosen by Norway," the SLMM said. "It has to comprise of representatives from Nordic countries — Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Finland and Sweden. It will remain Nordic unless parties to the cease-fire pact agree on modifications."

Norway has contributed 18 monitors to the SLMM including its head, Tryggve Tellefsen, and the second-in-command, Hagrup Haukland. The rest are from Iceland (2), Denmark (8), Sweden (8) and Finland (11).

Subsequent to tripartite discussions, the SLMM decided to increase the total number of monitors to 57 by June. It was done mainly to enhance the monitoring of the navy’s maritime patrolling and LTTE sea movements.

"Denmark has offered to give four additional monitors. The rest will come from countries already represented in the monitoring mission," the SLMM said.

It was not clear whether President Chandrika Kumaratunga obtained India’s consent to propose the inclusion of Indians in the monitoring mission during her recent visit to New Delhi. Delhi’s stance that its representatives would not sit with Tigers in any forum would make it impossible to appoint Indians as truce monitors.

Defence sources pointed out there was no likelihood of the Tigers agreeing to an Indian role in the SLMM. That would not be acceptable to them given New Delhi’s policy on the LTTE which it has outlawed. Prabhakaran and his intelligence chief, Pottu Amman, are proclaimed offenders in India wanted for the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, the sources said.

The Sri Lanka and Indian navies remain committed to tackle illegitimate sea movements and over a period of time co-operated to target Sea Tiger movements.

A senior government official involved in the peace process indicated that it would be ridiculous even to consider modifications without obtaining the prior consent of the Tigers.

Under the agreement even the composition of local monitoring committees and the number of such committees could not be altered without the parties to the February 22, 2002 pact agreeing. There are six local monitoring committees, each comprising five members — two each from the government and the LTTE and one expatriate — in charge of Jaffna, Mannar, Vavuniya, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara.

Meanwhile, the government’s Chief Negotiator G. L. Peiris yesterday met with Hans Brattskar, the new Norwegian Ambassador designate to discuss the entire gamut of issues relating to the stalled peace process. Brattskar, accompanied by former Norwegian Ambassador Jon Westborg arrived in Colombo on Thursday.

Westborg has been sent to explore ways and means of persuading the Tigers to return to the negotiating table. Minister Peiris also met with US Ambassador Ashley Wills yesterday, the sources said.

Their focus was on getting the talks back on the track, the sources said. A change in the composition of the SLMM was not a priority issue, they indicated.

UNP General Secretary Senarath Kapukotuwa last week accused the opposition of taking advantage of the Tiger decision to pull out of negotiations. He was strongly critical of what he described as a politically-motivated strategy to prevent the LTTE from returning to the negotiating table.