Wednesday, May 08, 2002
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By Nirupama Subramanian
``The External Affairs Minister, Jaswant Singh, assured me that India has no other interest than the return of peace to Sri Lanka. India's only desire is the internal peace of Sri Lanka,'' the Minister, who is also the Cabinet spokesman and was in New Delhi last month, said at a news conference.
The Government of India had "unequivocally'' declared its support for the peace process, he said. "India has offered to place at the disposal of Sri Lanka technical and constitutional expertise for the Government's discussions with the LTTE that are to be held in Thailand in due course,'' Mr. Peiris said.
Sri Lanka wanted to be fully prepared for the talks, and the Government would seek assistance from Indian Constitutional experts on aspects of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, a result of the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord, for a clear definition of the powers that could be devolved under it, and the unit of devolution, he said.
But the Minister, who is one of two cabinet members in charge of the ongoing peace process, dismissed the inference that a proposed LTTE-run interim administration, which is likely to be the main focus of the Thailand talks, would be based on the model provided by the 13th Amendment.
Mr. Peiris also asserted that talks would be held in June as planned and not in July, as speculation has it after the London-based Tamil Guardian, regarded as a pro-LTTE publication, said that talks might not be possible before mid-July.
In the last two weeks, the detente in Sri Lanka was threatened by two encounters at sea between the Sri Lankan Navy and the LTTE.
Following the incidents, a spokesman for the Norwegian-led monitoring mission, which is under fire from the Opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party for being "ineffective'', was quoted in local newspapers as saying that a decision had been taken to increase the number of international members on the team from 23 to 44 by the end of this month.
In one incident, the Navy blockaded a Tiger flotilla near Trincomalee, which was found to be transporting arms and cadres but was let off at the intervention of the monitors.
The monitors later said the LTTE had asked them to inform the Government of the flotilla's movement, and that they had omitted to do so due to an "oversight''.
In the second incident, the Navy clashed with boats that it said were carrying arms and ammunition.
According to the Navy, one boat self-destructed, while another blew up when its patrol returned fire from it.
But in a statement from Killinochchi, the LTTE has accused the Navy of firing on fishing boats, killing fishermen and "breaching'' the truce agreement.
It said the version that the boats were carrying arms was a "ludicrous lie fabricated by the naval authorities to justify their atrocities against innocent fishermen''.
Referring to these incidents, Mr. Peiris said no ceasefire in the world was perfect and said the monitoring mission was investigating them in a "even-handed'' manner.
Commenting that there was a "vast reservoir'' of international goodwill for the Sri Lankan Government's efforts to resolve the ethnic conflict, he said besides India, the U.S. was also fully supportive of the Sri Lankan Government's efforts to find peace.
He said Washington was now considering a free trade agreement with Sri Lanka.
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