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DateLine Sunday, 9 September 2007

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Government Gazette

Lanka ready to engage LTTE at any time- Foreign Minister

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama on Thursday September 6 informed the French Foreign Minister Dr. Bernard Kouchner that the Government of Sri Lanka remains ready to engage the LTTE at any time.

He expressed the hope that the LTTE will respond positively to this, at a time when the government through the All party Representative Committee (APRC) is seeking to finalise a political settlement through the process of constitutional reform.

Minister Bogollagama was responding to French Foreign Minister Kouchner when he inquired whether Sri Lanka was keen to restart the peace process, during discussions at Quaid' Orsay.

Minister Bogollagama detailed the painstaking process adopted since the Government of President Rajapaksa assumed office in November 2005 to resume negotiations with the LTTE. He explained that two rounds of talks were held with the LTTE with little avail.

At the same time a process was initiated through the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) to build a 'southern consensus' around constitutional reforms that would bring sustainable peace.

Referring to the recently concluded operations in the Eastern province, the Minister said the Government was compelled to engage in these operations after exercising much restraint in the face of the LTTE's continuing escalation of the conflict using the cover of the ceasefire agreement. He said the operations recently concluded in the East were necessary to end terrorism and bring about a pluralistic democracy in the entire country.

Foreign Minister Bogollagama had earlier acknowledged with appreciation the involvement of Dr. Kouchner in helping Sri Lanka in projects concerning the tsunami recovery and also more recently his role as a member of the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP). Foreign Minister Kouchner also shared some of his perceptions from the period he served as a member of the IIGEP.

Minister Bogollagama who acknowledged that the government had gone through a difficult period due to the escalation of the conflict in the East by the LTTE, assured the French Foreign Minister that there had been considerable improvement with regard to these issues in recent months following the government clearing the Eastern province of the LTTE.

Together with the international community, the UN system, as well as international and local NGOs, the Sri Lanka Government had undertaken a massive effort to redevelop the Eastern Province which for more than a decade had been ravaged by the LTTE.

He said that of the slightly more than 140,00 who were displaced and were in welfare centres, 103,000 have returned to their homes at the end of last month. The Minister said now the focus was on restoring the livelihoods of the returnees and clearing landmines in order to resettle those still remaining in welfare centres.

Recognised international and local NGOs have been totally integrated in these programs and the Government is hopeful that the redevelopment of the East would become a model of post conflict peace building and development.

Responding to inquiries from Minister Kouchner on the status of the killing of the 17 aid workers of the French NGO, Action Against Hunger (ACF), Minister Bogollagama said the Government takes very serious note of this and has been transparent in dealing with the situation. The Minister said while in Paris this week he had held a meeting with the ACF President and Executive Director. He said both parties agreed on the need to speedily conclude the investigations and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Minister Bogollagama briefed Minister Kouchner on the continuing threat faced by the LTTE's atrocities and fundraising activities.

He welcomed the recent action taken by France to crack down on LTTE terrorist activities on French soil, including the arrest of key LTTE leaders in France and the shutting down of the LTTE owned satellite channel Tamil Television Network (TTN) which was the main propaganda arm of the LTTE in Europe.

Minister Bogollagama also drew attention of the French Foreign Minister to the recent report of the Jane's Intelligence Review which identifies Paris as the LTTE's operations coordination headquarters in Europe.

He said that he had earlier held consultations with Mr. Brice Hortefeux, Minister of Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Co-development and Mr. Christian Estrosi, Secretary of State for the Minister of Interior and officials of the French Intelligence Services.

The two Ministers also discussed the need to enhance tourist traffic from France to Sri Lanka. The French side assured that the travel advisory issued by the French government would be amended.

It was also agreed to take steps to increase trade relations between the two countries. The Minister also thanked the French government for its pledge to enhance job opportunities for migrants from Sri Lanka in the professional and skilled work categories and students in the IT and Natural Science disciplines.

Minister Bogollagama invited Foreign Minister Kouchner to visit Sri Lanka. It was agreed that a visit could be undertaken early next year.

 

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