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Peace builder welcomes Sri Lankan talks

A Tamil boy passing Sri Lankan government soldiers near Batticoloa Keystone

Martin Stürzinger, advisor for peace building at the Swiss embassy in Sri Lanka, tells swissinfo the timing of the Sri Lanka peace talks near Geneva is crucial.

This content was published on February 22, 2006 - 08:32

The Swiss-hosted meeting, which starts on Wednesday, will be attended by delegations from the Sri Lankan government and from the rebel Tamil Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

These are the first talks between the two sides for three years. They will take place on the anniversary of the Norwegian-brokered ceasefire, which was negotiated four years ago.

Discussions are expected to focus on the implementation and strengthening of the ceasefire, which has come under strain in recent months due to rising tension in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

swissinfo: How did Switzerland come to be the host of the talks?

Martin Stürzinger: The Sri Lankan government initially wanted to have the talks inside the country whereas the LTTE insisted on having the talks in the Norwegian capital Oslo.

As it became increasingly difficult to find a venue that was acceptable to both parties, the Norwegian facilitator asked the Swiss foreign ministry if it was possible to have the talks in Switzerland. We of course agreed, and are happy that both parties accepted this venue.

swissinfo: What role will Switzerland be playing?

M.S.: The talks will be facilitated by Norway; Switzerland will be the host country. The foreign ministry will of course do its utmost to ensure that they take place in an environment that is conducive to reaching a mutually acceptable solution.

And this included finding a suitable venue as well as ensuring that security for the delegations is guaranteed, and that all logistic needs are met.

swissinfo: Tension has been mounting in Sri Lanka. How important is it to have the meeting now?

M.S.: We were indeed very concerned about the increasing violence in the north and east and already in December called upon the LTTE and the government of Sri Lanka to strictly uphold the ceasefire agreement and commence talks as soon as possible.

Nevertheless tension increased further. A few days back we once again called on the parties to the conflict to do all within their powers to ensure that the talks can start in a constructive atmosphere.

I think the timing is really important. Soon after the presidential election in November tension mounted to a very high degree, so I think it's crucial to have the talks now.

swissinfo: What are your hopes for the outcome of the talks?

M.S.: Since the announcement of the talks on January 25 the violence has decreased to a great extent.

For the outcome I think it would be prudent to say that the complexity of problems regarding the ceasefire agreement can most probably not be solved just within two days.

An optimistic outcome would be that the tension further decreases and the parties agree to a date and a venue for a next round of talks.

swissinfo: Is a future solution to the conflict possible?

M.S.: Switzerland supports the Oslo Declaration of December 2002 where the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE agreed "to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka".

We of course think that a political solution to this conflict is possible, but it is however up to the parties to decide on measures to be taken in order to achieve a solution.

swissinfo: Could a solution be found along Swiss federal lines?

M.S.: There has been interest in the Swiss federal system by both parties. This is just one example of a federal set-up. We don't think that a solution has to be along the lines of Swiss federalism, but devolution of power is in our view certainly a constructive avenue to find a solution to the conflict.

swissinfo-interview: Isobel Leybold-Johnson

Key facts

The meeting will take place near Geneva from February 22-23.
Discussions will focus on the 2002 ceasefire, which has come under strain in the last months.
More than 64,000 people have died during three decades of conflict in Sri Lanka.
The Tamil Tigers want autonomy for minority Tamils in the north and east.
The Sinhalese government does not accept a separate state for the Tamils, but says it would consider sharing power.

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