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Sunday, 25 April 2004  
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North, South and Norway

Even as the dust is settling on the tumult attending the conclusion of the General Election and Thursday's election of a Speaker the news from Oslo points the country towards its priorities.

Yesterday's lead story in the 'Daily News' said that Norway's Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik had confirmed that his country was ready to assume its facilitatory role in bringing the Sri Lanka Government and the LTTE to the negotiating table again.

The Prime Minister has said that this depended on the LTTE's willingness to resume talks but the same news story quoted diplomatic sources as saying that this was virtually on the cards as the LTTE itself had expressed its desire for resuming talks with the newly-elected Government.

Whatever views one might hold on the settlement of the ethnic problem there is no doubt that it has to be done through negotiations rather than confrontation. This however does not mean that anybody should underestimate or soft pedal the problems and obstacles which could litter the path of a negotiated settlement.

In fact Presidential spokesman Harim Pieris is quoted in the same news story as striking a refreshingly candid note. He had said that past criticisms of Norway's role did not invalidate its overall functions. He has pointed out that some political parties had been critical of Norway on specific matters.

This after all is in the nature of politics and the fact that some of these parties should constitute the present Government should in no way vitiate the negotiations which are being planned.

What is necessary now is for both the Government and the LTTE to remove the ethnic problem from the arena of contentious partisan politics and treat it as a pivotal issue which can determine the country's future.

In this sense it is unfortunate that the issue should have again deteriorated and been dragged in the mire of politics during and after the General Election in which MPs of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) were elected to Parliament with the LTTE's blessings.

The positive side of this development is that in spite of all the flaws of the North-East election the LTTE's opinion is represented for the first time in Parliament at least by proxy. But this itself casts an obligation on the ITAK MPs to soundly represent Tamil opinion in Parliament without taking up intransigent or extremist postures in what is clearly a Parliament divided on ethnic and even religious lines.

An equal onus falls on the political parties of the South both within and outside the Government. While the principal obligation for resuming negotiations rests on the Government the UNP as the main Opposition party (and what is more the party which initiated the negotiations of 2002 and the Memorandum of Understanding on which these talks were based) can not also withdraw from the peace process.

While it was natural that the election campaign should have thrown up a great deal of unnecessary mud and dirt no political party worth its salt can shirk its obligations by the nation and the people.

The LTTE itself is not without its problems as demonstrated by the short-lived revolt mounted by its Eastern chief against the Wanni establishment. However it will be unwise to gloat over the LTTE's internal problems at the expense of the larger national interest.

There has to be a commitment on the part of the Government and the LTTE in the first place and of the Opposition parties at the next level to bring about a negotiated settlement.

If Sri Lanka's political parties both of the South and the North do not show the political will necessary for such an exercise the country could well have placed itself on the Gaderene slope to dissolution and disintegration.

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