Sri Lanka can expect private censure after co-chairs meet

By M.R. Narayan Swamy, IANS

New Delhi : Amid a virtual war and rampant rights abuses, the international community overseeing Sri Lanka's tattered peace process is expected to privately censure Colombo after a meeting in Oslo Tuesday.

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In a departure from the past, the co-chairs to the peace process – the US, Japan, the European Union and official peace facilitator Norway – may not issue any statement so as not to publicly offend the sensibilities of the Sri Lankan government.

IANS understands that leaders of the countries constituting the co-chairs are "very worried" about the situation in Sri Lanka, where military clashes and targeted killings by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and government forces as well as its allies have led to thousands of deaths and rained misery since the end of 2005.

Although the co-chairs think that the LTTE has also contributed greatly to the present situation, they feel Colombo is hurting its own cause by what one source said was its lack of realism and vision besides failure to check widespread human rights violations.

These concerns would be conveyed after the one-day "working meeting" in the Norwegian capital to government leaders in Sri Lanka who have increasingly voiced their displeasure over Western criticism of their actions against the LTTE.

If the co-chairs do not issue a public statement after the talks, they will be following the example of India, which rarely criticizes Sri Lanka publicly for mistakes small and big in the war but keeps conveying its concerns privately, to the highest quarters in Colombo.

Tuesday's meeting will be the first of the co-chairs after November 2006 when the grouping met in Washington and comes in the wake of high-level visits to Sri Lanka by leaders of the constituent countries.

It also follows the talks Norway's International Development Minister Erik Solheim, the man behind the now collapsed 2002 ceasefire between the LTTE and Colombo, had with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse in Geneva this month in a cordial atmosphere.

When Solheim sought to explore the possibilities of renewed peace talks between Colombo and the Tamil Tigers, the president reportedly told him that he had no objection provided the LTTE shows "genuine sincerity".

Besides the intense violence that has marked the collapse of the Sri Lanka truce, what is worrying international actors is the manner ordinary Tamils have got caught in the web of war.

The recent expulsion of over 300 Tamil civilians from lodges in Colombo over security reasons – and the government's later flip flop over the widely criticized step which the Supreme Court hurriedly halted – is seen as an act that plays into the hands of the LTTE, which remains committed to the goal of an independent homeland.

It has been stated officially by the Norwegian government that the Tuesday meeting is meant to "share information and views" and to discuss how the co-chairs, as a group or as individual countries, can contribute to the ending of violence in Sri Lanka.

Representing the US in Oslo would be Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, who has met President Rajapakse more than once in recent times, both in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

Other participants would be Special Representative Yasushi Akashi of Japan, Andreas Michaelis from the European Union presidency and Acting Deputy Director General James Morran of the European Commission besides host Solheim.

As is usual, India, Sri Lanka's closest and most interested neighbour, will get a briefing after the discussions