Norway minister to meet Sri Lanka rebel leader
COLOMBO: Norway’s deputy foreign minister will arrive in Sri Lanka on Sunday for meetings with the government and the reclusive leader of the Tamil Tigers, adding steam to the island’s peace process ahead of more direct talks.
Vidar Helgesen will also travel to the south of Sri Lanka to check on the economic situation and Norwegian aid projects before meeting Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leaders in the north, the Norwegian Embassy said in a statement. “The discussions with the government and the LTTE will mainly focus on the establishment of the joint task force and the preparation for the next round of talks in Thailand,” it said.
The next round of talks start on October 31 in Thailand’s Sattahip, a navy base 260 km (160 miles) southeast of Bangkok, the same location as the first talks last month that focused on reconstruction of areas hit by the two-decade ethnic war that has killed 64,000 people.
The pro-LTTE Tamilnet website said Helgesen would hold talks with rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. It would be their first meeting. Prabhakaran, who has built the LTTE from an ill-equipped ragtag group into one of the world’s toughest rebel forces, rarely meets non-Tamils.
Norway is brokering the peace process and helped set up a ceasefire that has mostly held since it was signed in February.
Helgesen’s visit follows the arrival on Tuesday of chief LTTE negotiator Anton Balasingham, the highest-level Tamil Tiger official in more than a decade to pass through Colombo airport.
Balasingham, now in Sri Lanka’s rebel-held northern Wanni region, is considered Prabhakaran’s closest adviser. Helgesen, who leaves next Thursday, will also meet Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and other government leaders. —Reuters