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India monitoring talks

By Amit Baruah

NEW DELHI DEC. 6. Maintaining a close watch on the Sri Lankan political process and the "statement" issued by Norway on the "breakthrough" made in Oslo, India has decided not to respond officially to the developments.

However, sources told this correspondent that the LTTE negotiator, Anton Balasingham, already appeared to have crossed the limits set by the statement issued by Norway on the agreement reached by the "parties" — the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE.

It would appear that Mr. Balasingham's comments to the press on a new Constitution and related issues is what has made the sources believe that the LTTE official had gone beyond the spirit of the agreed text.

The "breakthrough" assessment is not one that is being shared by official circles here though some appear more optimistic than others.

One section believes that the Norwegian statement, as far as it goes, is a general one and simply commits the Tigers and the Colombo to begin talks within an agreed framework. This section is conscious of the fact that the key to the success of any peace agreement in Sri Lanka lies in the "detail" and not in the general principles that are contained in the Norwegian statement.

Interestingly, India has recently conveyed to the United States that it will not be lifting the ban on the LTTE and has urged Washington to also retain it.

India has made it clear that the Tigers will remain a banned organisation despite the fact that they were talking to the Sri Lankan Government with international facilitation, the sources said.

During the recent support group meeting for the Sri Lankan peace process on November 25 in Norway, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, reportedly told Mr. Balasingham that the Tigers must renounce violence.

In itself, the agreement between the "parties" announced by Norway on Thursday does represent a "forward movement", but the process will have greater credibility if the LTTE chief, Prabakaran, was a signatory to the document. Whatever be the progress or the problems with Thursday's statement, a "signature" from Mr. Prabakaran would make a considerable difference to the whole peace process. As LTTE watchers are aware, Mr. Prabakaran has had major problems with Mr. Balasingham in the past, but is aware that in the current international climate some one like the LTTE negotiator is necessary for him.

A close reading of the "statement" issued in Oslo reveals that the Tigers have not made any commitment to renounce violence in the agreed text. Statements made at press conferences by people like Mr. Balasingham do not count for much as far as eschewing violence is concerned.

While supporting the general trajectory of peace and compromise, healthy scepticism towards an organisation such as the LTTE is very much called for given its past record.

For India, the peace process throws up many dilemmas. The Rajiv Gandhi murder case, of course, and Mr. Prabakaran being an accused, is a key one. Also, the contours of a "settlement" in Sri Lanka, if at all it happens, has obvious implications for New Delhi.

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