NATIONAL

Tamils' confidence eroded, says Prabakaran

COLOMBO Nov. 13. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam chief, V. Prabakaran, today said that the southern political stalemate had "undermined the trust of the Tamil people" in the peace process and sought "guarantees" from the Norwegian facilitators that the Sri Lankan Government "will continue with its commitment to the ceasefire agreement".

In the LTTE's first official reaction to the weeklong southern political stalemate, Mr. Prabakaran reportedly told a team of visiting Norwegian facilitators that the rebel group would remain "committed to the peace process and the ceasefire agreement". According to sources in northern Sri Lanka, the LTTE chief assured the Norwegian facilitators that the rebels "would not go back to war, but would decide suitably if a war was thrust" on them. "The Tamil people", he said, "had built hopes" on the peace process and that their confidence had "eroded" following the southern political developments.

The LTTE unilaterally pulled out of talks in April and subsequently demanded a politico-administrative interim administration, with a majority stake for itself. On October 31, it submitted its proposals outlining its proposals for an Interim Self-Governing Authority for the North-east.

The LTTE chief today "told the Norwegian delegation that unity regarding the peace process should emerge among the leaders of the south, that the LTTE has to be clear as to whom they can continue the peace talks and that the crisis and confusion in the south has undermined the trust the Tamil people had in the peace process," a report in the TamilNet quoted the rebel political wing leader, S.P. Tamilchelvan, as saying.

The Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister, Vidar Helgesen, who led the team of facilitators, told journalists in Kilinochchi that he conveyed to the LTTE, assurances given by the President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, and the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, that the peace process would not be affected by the political standoff. The two-hour meeting was reportedly "cordial" and "constructive".

Mr. Helgesen also told journalists that the LTTE had asked him to "convey some messages" to the Government, but declined to elaborate. Though "there is no time frame for the resumption of talks," the LTTE reportedly told Mr. Helgesen that it "would like to start talks as soon as possible."

Last night, Ms. Kumaratunga told the Norwegian facilitators that "if the need arose" she would enter into an agreement with the Prime Minister to "ensure the recent changes in the Defence portfolio would not affect the ceasefire agreement and the ongoing peace initiatives", the President's office said.

Mr. Tamilchelvan reportedly told journalists that southern political differences were "a historical fact, whenever a solution to the Tamils was being worked out" and that the LTTE would watch the situation closely. He declined to comment on the southern political crisis or elections, but reportedly said that the LTTE "leadership would decide at a later stage, depending on the situation".

The Norwegian team included Oslo's Special Envoy for the peace process, Erik Solheim, and the Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Hans Brattskar. The LTTE team included Mr. Tamilchelvan.

Helgesen meets PM

On returning to Colombo, Mr. Helgesen met Mr. Wickremesinghe and briefed him on the Kilinochchi meeting. He was scheduled to meet Ms. Kumaratunga later today.