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Aussie Govt. supports talks

Clifford Landers reporting from Australia

Melbourne (Friday) - The Australian government fully supports the determination with which, Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has pursued a peace settlement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Alexander Downer, the Australian Foreign Minister said today.

In an exclusive interview, Downer told the Sunday Observer from his Parliamentary Office in Canberra, that the Australian Government has consistently argued that there is no military solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka. "We have urged both sides to seek a negotiated political settlement which respects the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and the legitimate political aspirations of all Sri Lankans", he said.

The Government therefore fully supports the determination with which Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has pursued a peace settlement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) since his Government came to power in elections last December.

Minister Downer praised both parties for restoring peace and agreeing to sit at the negotiating table. "It is encouraging that the LTTE were prepared to agree with the Sri Lankan Government on a ceasefire that so far has held. The ceasefire is already yielding benefits for communities in Sri Lanka. For instance, it is believed that around 100,000 of Sri Lanka's estimated 800,000 displaced persons have spontaneously returned to their homes in recent months", he said.

The Government welcomes the recent announcement that a first round of peace negotiations between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE will be held in Thailand on 16-18 September. "We urge both sides to enter these negotiations with a view to finding a permanent settlement to the long-running conflict that has caused immense human suffering to all communities in Sri Lanka", Downer said.

He also stressed, "While the Australian Government welcomes the LTTE's willingness to enter into negotiations; we remain seriously concerned by regular and reliable reports that the LTTE continues to conscript or recruit child soldiers in areas under its control. The use of child soldiers is abhorrent. The LTTE must cease this activity immediately and release all children currently in its ranks".

The Government also calls on the LTTE to cooperate fully with efforts by Australia and other members of the international community to assist former child soldiers in overcoming their traumatic experiences and re-joining their families and communities.

The Minister explained that through aid programs in Sri Lanka, Australia is supporting a number of activities aimed at alleviating suffering caused by the conflict. Total aid flows in this financial year are estimated at $11.4 million.

The Australian-funded Community Resettlement Program, for instance, is contributing to the peace process by helping to restore normal living conditions and a stable socio-economic environment for conflict-affected communities of all ethnicities in the north and east of Sri Lanka. "More than 30,000 people have received direct assistance under this program, allowing thousands to return to productive lives as students, farmers, fishers and other occupations", he said.

In addition, over 2000 land mines have been cleared, more than 16,000 people have received housing, six pre-schools have been established and over 1,100 wells have been sunk. "The program also provides trauma counselling and has developed a number of community-based peace-building initiatives focused largely on women and children in conflict-affected areas of Sri Lanka", Minister Downer concluded.

HNB-Pathum Udanaya2002

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