Sri Lanka
Norway reiterates support to Sri Lanka peace process
Feb 22, 2007 - 5:07:39 PM

Colombo, Feb 22 - The Norwegian government Thursday expressed willingness to continue to support Sri Lanka's peace process amidst calls by a Marxist party and a group of Buddhist monks to abrogate the five-year-old Cease Fire Agreement - with Tamil rebels.

The Marxist JVP - put up posters island-wide and planned to hold a protest rally in Colombo later in the day against the truce agreement.

A group of Buddhist monks who are already on a protest campaign have vowed to step it up if President Mahinda Rajapaksa does not withdraw from the CFA.

Norway's International Development Cooperation Minister Erik Solheim, who played a key role as Oslo's peace envoy when the truce agreement was implemented, Thursday hoped that the rebels and the Sri Lankan government 'will recognise the need to secure full implementation of the CFA as a first step toward reaching a political solution.'

Violence between Tamil rebels and government forces has escalated since Dec 2005 after rebels carried out a series of attacks on the security forces, prompting major military operations in rebel-controlled areas.

Military officials claim that all of them have been defensive operations as rebels were carrying out attacks on civilians as well as the military.

Solheim, in a statement marking the fifth anniversary of the truce agreement, said it was 'a tremendously positive development for Sri Lanka' and said the pact between the two sides in 2002 brought an immediate stop to 20 years of fighting and the economy and tourism picked up rapidly.

'The Ceasefire Agreement also allowed the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE - to begin negotiations on a political solution to the conflict,' said Solheim.

But the pact was followed by a cycle of violence, he said.

'One killing was followed by another, and the violence escalated. The problem started when the parties decided not to implement the agreement into which they themselves had entered,' Solheim said. 'Massive human rights abuses, grave humanitarian suffering and the displacement of over 200,000 people are among the results. It is the responsibility of the parties to put a stop to this and to demonstrate the political will to reach a lasting settlement.'

The significance of the agreement has been fast declining over the past year after Tamil rebels and the government entered into full-scale offensives, though in the first few years the truce was closely honoured by both the Tamil rebels and the government.

Ven Dambara Amila, a Buddhist monk leading a protest campaign opposite a public park in Colombo, denounced the pact as harmful to the Singhalese majority.

'The agreement, which has been very favourable to the Tamil Tigers, should be abrogated before it enters the sixth year,' he said.

Tamil rebels, meanwhile, have accused the government of violating the CFA.

The number of Scandinavians monitoring the truce agreement in the north and east has dropped from 60 to only 35, following a ban by the EU on the LTTE in May 2006.

Tamil rebels insisted that the three countries withdraw their representatives from the monitoring team known as the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission - and thereby the monitors were depleted, forcing them to reorganise themselves and carry on with less members.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected to power in November 2005 with the promise that he would review the CFA and make certain modifications, but heavily influenced by the Marxists who helped him into power, no changes have been made and the rebels and the government are far apart.

During the past 14 months at least 3,200 persons have been killed, mainly in the north and eastern parts of the country, and peace talks have been at a standstill since Sept last year.

Xinhua adds: Sri Lanka's parliament session was interrupted by 10 minutes on Thursday as an opposition group demanded a statement from the government on the fifth anniversary of the Norwegian backed truce agreement with the LTTE.

The February 2002 pact came ahead of the government and the LTTE's six rounds of direct negotiations that began in September 2002.

The truce agreement defines the rebel held regions in the north of the country and allowed LTTE rebels to set up political offices in the government controlled areas in war torn northern and eastern provinces.

Both sides accuse each other of violation and the non-implementation of ceasefire conditions.

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