B. Muralidhar Reddy

International community must ensure LTTE's participation in talks: Rajapaksa

COLOMBO: Visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Richard Boucher termed as "unfortunate" the Sri Lanka Supreme Court decision on merger of north and east and said merger of the two provinces is "fundamental" to the peace process.

Winding up his two-day visit to the island nation Mr. Boucher told a news conference that despite the recent incidents of violence Washington and the international community favoured resumption of talks between the Sri Lanka Government and the LTTE as talks was the only way to resolve the political issues.

The U.S. envoy said there is understanding among all he had met within and outside the Lanka Government in the course of the visit that that merger issue was critical to the peace process and "it is to be dealt with in that context." In response to another question, he said one of the main reasons for his visit to the Trincomalee town during the day was to gauge the mood of the people on the merger issue and it had nothing to do with media speculation on the desire of Washington to establish a military base in the naval town.

At his meeting with the Sri Lanka President, Mahinda Rajapaksa the U.S. envoy was told that the LTTE's continued violence would not help when the Government is preparing to participate in negotiation with the outfit. However, he said that he is committed to find a negotiated settlement to the ethic conflict.

Mr. Rajapaksa expressed the hope that the international community will ensure that the LTTE would not quit the negotiation table as it did earlier, until a solution is reached. Mr. Boucher was also informed on the "emerging southern consensus" and the Memorandum of Understanding to be signed by the President with the main Opposition party, the United National Party (UNP).

20 Tigers killed

Sri Lanka Navy on Friday night claimed to have killed at least 20 cadres of the LTTE off the Mullaittivu Sea and said two of its sailors suffered "minor injuries" during a battle. In a statement the Navy said its fast attack craft patrolling the Mullaittivu seas observed 15 Sea Tigers boats including three suicide boats around 6 p.m. "The naval attack craft intercepted them and destroyed two Tiger craft and inflicted heavy damage to the other boats."

Earlier in the day, the navy said it has recovered the bodies of seven LTTE cadres involved in a suicide bombing of the Galle harbour and a naval base in the south.