LTTE likely to announce return to negotiating table shortly
by Our Defence Correspondent
However, the timeframe would be decided according to the progress made on the issue of official recognition of the Sea Tigers and the formal extension of the Ceasefire Agreement to coastal and international waters, sources said. In other words, the Tigers plan to push a hard bargain with regard to their access to move freely around the coast of northeastern Sri Lanka, and also with regard to ensuring that their arms-carrying cargo ships will not be sunk, before coming back to the talks.
The LTTE pulled out of peace talks more than a month ago, officially giving the reason that there had not been enough progress towards reconstructing the northeast, and their dismay at being left out of the aid forum in Washington in early April. However, it is common knowledge that the LTTE was unhappy over the sinking of one of its arms supply ships in March, and another smaller arms-carrying boat in February, both by the Sri Lanka Navy and is pushing for the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission to persuade the government to allow the Sea Tigers free movement without the risk of having their boats and ships destroyed.
Tiger hopes were raised when the SLMM had made some drastic proposals such as official recognition of the Sea Tigers, and the ceding of coastal areas around Mullaittivu and Pooneryn to the LTTE, but these immediately ran into trouble as Navy chief Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri publicly rejected the SLMM proposals. Vice Admiral Sandagiri is a close confidante of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, and the president is expected to take an even tougher line with regard to the issue of the Sea Tigers on the grounds that officially recognizing them would be tantamount to the government itself illegally violating the sovereignty of the country.
The SLMM has since modified its proposals to the dismay of the LTTE, and direct talks between the top brass of the armed forces and the LTTE which were scheduled for mid-April and then put back for May have not been held. The SLMM continues to work on trying to find a solution.
Retired Indian Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral C. J. Jacob is currently studying the naval situation and is expected back in Colombo next week for further talks with high-ranking Defence Ministry and navy officials before presenting his preliminary proposals to end the deadlock at sea. Vice Admiral Jacob was co-opted to study the naval aspects of the Ceasefire Agreement by retired Indian Lieutenant General Sathish Nambiar, who has been appointed by the government of Sri Lanka to come up with action plans for the easing of tensions on land. Nambiar has specifically been studying the issues surrounding the LTTEs demand that the army vacate its High Security Zones around bases in the north in order for refugees to be re-settled, but the LTTE has already rejected his plan, which the government made public.
However, while the LTTE is still unhappy over these three issues, HSZs on land, movements at sea and reconstruction of the northeast, it has taken note of the international communitys displeasure with their suspension of the peace talks, notably the statements of the US Ambassador Ashley Wills and the US State Department, as reported by this column last week. The governments of Norway and Japan, while taking a more conciliatory stance, have not been as yielding as the LTTE expected, strengthened by the statements of the US government.
Towards this aim of smoothening the waters where the international community is concerned, the LTTE pulled off a brilliant propaganda operation this week aimed at negating the bad sentiment from the international community caused by their suspending peace talks, while at the same time continuing to block the path to negotiations.
On Tuesday, the Tigers took virtually everyone by surprise when they announced that they would be sending a convoy of relief supplies to the flood stricken people in the south, and followed up by swiftly sending six lorries loaded with dry rations. The lorries containing cargo worth about Rs. 4 million arrived in Colombo on Thursday with much fanfare and were greeted by senior government officials including cabinet ministers, before setting off for the Kalutara and Ratnapura districts. The Tigers distributed the aid themselves in order to gain maximum publicity for their effort rather than handing over the items to government officials in charge of the relief effort.
Simultaneously the LTTE very calculatingly made the startling announcement on Thursday that it is renouncing any military solution to the ethnic problem. The announcement was made on the Tamilnet worldwide and was faxed to offices of media organizations, while at the same time local and foreign reporters were brought to Kilinochchi for a press conference by LTTE Political Wing Leader S. P. Thamilchelvam.
It was noteworthy that LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran did not attend the event, signifying that the Tigers have learned from the debacle of the LTTE chiefs press conference a year ago when he gave a poor impression to the public which is not in keeping with his reputation.
However, the LTTEs public renouncing of violence goes against their continued actions. There has been no reduction in recruitment and training of cadres or of movements of weapons along the coastline. Early this week, three young girls aged 10, 12 and 14 escaped from an LTTE camp in the east while being trained and their parents handed them over to the government, proving that the LTTE continues to recruit children of tender years, in direct contravention of their many statements denying that they recruit children.
In the past few weeks, there have been several interceptions of Sea Tiger boats transporting weapons and explosives off the Trincomalee coastline which would not happen if the LTTE were not continuing its preparations for war.
The LTTE continues to purchase weapons and ammunition on the global market. Thai authorities continue to hold in custody three LTTE cadres who were arrested in Bangkok with a haul of small arms and ammunition. This column two weeks ago exclusively reported the visit of two LTTE officials to Cyprus and Damascus to meet with go-betweens of the toppled Iraqi regime in attempts to purchase weapons.
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