Diplomatic Correspondent

Delhi's advice will be appreciated during negotiations: Solheim

Talks likely to take place in Geneva in mid-February Says both sides should make concerted efforts to end hostilities

NEW DELHI: India on Friday welcomed the decision by the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to hold talks in Geneva in February, the External Affairs Ministry said. "The resumption of talks augurs well for the prospects of peace in Sri Lanka," the Ministry stressed.

"The Government of India reiterates its long-standing view in favour of a negotiated political settlement that meets the just aspirations of all communities and which respects the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka," it added.

Addressing a press conference after meeting Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, Norwegian Minister for Development Cooperation Erik Solheim said on Friday that India was "very pleased" by the decision of the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE to hold talks to implement their ceasefire agreement.

The talks were likely to take place in Geneva in the middle of February, Mr. Solheim said at the Norwegian Embassy. He was also scheduled to meet National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan on Friday evening.

Describing his meeting with Mr. Saran as "excellent", Mr. Solheim said India was fully supportive of the latest development. In response to a question, the Norwegian facilitator for Sri Lanka said he didn't expect Indian "presence" at the Geneva talks, but appreciated advice from New Delhi.

According to him, a long and thorny path lay ahead of the Sri Lankan peace process. "It will not go smoothly," Mr. Solheim maintained. While the LTTE had to stop the killing of Sri Lankan soldiers, the Government must end harassment of Tamil civilians and the killing of LTTE cadres by "paramilitaries".

Asked what would be the agenda of the Geneva talks, the Norwegian envoy replied that the "full spectrum" of the ceasefire agreement would be discussed. While the Tigers and the Sri Lankan Government had committed themselves to reducing violence, he said, "We should not be detracted [from the talks] if there are incidents."

On his meeting with LTTE chief Velupillai Prabakaran, Mr. Solheim said they had spent about two-and-a-half hours together on Wednesday, including discussions over lunch in Kilinochchi.