GOSL, LTTE hold high-level conference in Batticaloa
[TamilNet, Thursday, 30 January 2003, 16:35 GMT]
A high level conference between the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the LTTE, observed by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, was held from 10:15 am to 3:30 pm Thursday at the Vavunatheevu divisional secretariat, located in no-manís land in the Batticaloa district, sources said.
Representing the LTTE were Senior Commander Col. V. Karuna, Special commander for Batticaloa-Ampara, Mr. T. Ramesh, medical division head, Vaman, and Varathan. On behalf of the GOSL, Mr. Austin Fernando, the Defence Secretary, Deputy Chief of Staff at the Army Headquarters Major General Anton Wijendra and Mr. M. Majeed, appointed by the government to watch the interests of the Muslim community participated.
The SLMM chief Maj. Gen (Retd.) Trond Furuhvod and head of the SLMMís Batticaloa division and Mr. Kekki Kolkinnen facilitated the meeting.
The discussions at the conference centred on hostile actions by the SL forces and the police, alleged recruitment of children by the LTTE and matters concerning the Muslim community, sources said.
Speaking to journalists after the conference, Col. Karuna said, "there have been many hostile acts by the GOSL recently, in particular the removal for the second time of the welcome board, erupted by Tamils near the Pillaiyar temple at the entrance to Batticaloa town. This is sad.Ē
Alluding to allegations of abductions and other incidents, Col. Karuna said, "80% of the Batticaloa district is under LTTE control. In the areas under our control, there has been no incident of abductions. It is in the areas controlled by the SL armed forces, where many Tamil paramilitary groups operate that several incidents of abductions have been reported. It is clear that such incidents are the results of the actions of these paramilitary groups, and these groups need to be disciplined, and we made it clear to the government."
Col. Karuna said, "The allegation of child conscription is wrong. Recently, when anyone under 18 comes to join us, we have returned them to their parents through the SLMM. In addition, there are several children who have become orphans as their parents were killed during the war. These children are being sent to orphanages and rehabilitation centers through the SLMM. We reject the allegation of child conscription."
He said that at the conference, the LTTE discussed the issues facing the Muslim community. "There have been some false statements by elements within the Muslim community that have angered the Tamil community. Amid several difficulties we have faced, we have accepted the opinions of the Muslim people and our leader V. Pirapaharan has signed an agreement with Mr. Rauff Hakeem of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress. In such a situation, Muslim-Tamil relations can be strengthened if the elements within the Muslim community desist from angering the Tamil community and making false allegations against the LTTE.
|Mr. Austin Fernando shaking hands with Colonel Karuna|
"There are allegations that we are extorting money and obtain tax from Muslims. But we do not. Recently in Akkaraipattu extortionists falsely used the name of an LTTE member. We are investigating this incident.
"Yesterday, there was a rally and agitation by some Muslims demanding a separate state for Muslims. Such actions show that some people within the community are against the peace process. Muslim people should support the peace process in the current context.
"When there are minor incidents that violate the ceasefire agreement, the LTTE local commanders and political leaders will immediately contact the SLMM and take action. I cannot guarantee that there wonít be any minor incidents. This is because we have come to the ceasefire agreement after a long period of war. No one should think the ethnic conflict could be solved immediately or in just a few months. Progress will be in several stages, and it is healthy to solve the minor irritants and violations immediately.
"In all areas, including Jaffna and the Vanni, our cadres are asked for a driverís license. We cannot allow this. For several years, we fought the Sri Lankan armed. We canít suddenly follow every law of the SL government and obtain driverís licenses. We have made it clear that it is unacceptable to demand driverís license from our cadres."
When asked for his comments on the conference, the Defence Secretary, Mr. Austin Fernando, refused to comment.