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Monday, 16 September, 2002, 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK
Sri Lanka talks in tourist hot spot
Delegates at the opening ceremony for talks in Thailand
The public events are at Thailand's largest resort hotel

The public events of the Sri Lankan peace talks are being held in Thailand's largest resort hotel - a vast sprawling complex with thousands of rooms.

The 250 accredited journalists covering the talks are obscured by hoards of bucket-and-spade holiday makers wandering around in swimming trunks.

It seems to have passed most people by that peace talks are taking place here that will determine the future of millions of Sri Lankans.

Many hotel staff look blank when asked where the talks are taking place and one Sri Lankan journalist was horrified to find his taxi driver from the airport initially could not place his country.

But then he suddenly recognised it saying: "Ah! Sri Lanka people come for massage!"

The negotiations are taking place behind closed doors in a naval base 30 kilometres (19 miles) away from the hotel.

It is a beautiful spot on the Gulf of Thailand - an oddly serene place to discuss a civil war that the chief negotiator for the Tamil Tigers, Anton Balasingham, described as "brutal and savage" in his opening address.

Excitement

Many Sri Lankans who come to Thailand remember the days when both countries were on an economic par and they blame the civil war for holding them back while Thailand surged forward in development.

Chief government delegate GL Peiris
The government delegate sounded hopeful

At Sattahip the Thai navy have made available five villas - two for each delegation and one for the Norwegian mediators.

There are plans for 12 hours of formal discussions spread over three days.

But the organisers have not ruled out informal meetings in the relaxed setting of the base away from the public eye.

Some members of each delegation have already met one another but this first session is clearly an opportunity for relationship building.

If the atmosphere at the opening ceremony was anything to go by there will in private be a real effort by both sides to put the past behind them.

Optimism

The excitement was palpable - the Tigers describing the talks as "an historic peace making event" and the government calling it "an epoch making exercise in rapprochement" that would "impact profoundly on the destiny of a nation".

LTTE chief delegate Anton Balasingham
Rebel delegate shares official optimism

There was an overriding sense of optimism which superseded all attempts at caution - the many warnings that there were no quick fixes to a war that has lasted two decades.

The Norwegian mediator Erik Solheim closed the ceremonies by reminding everyone that what was at stake was human happiness.

He spoke of his lasting impression of a Tamil Tiger policeman who had been able to visit his family again after seven years because of the peace process.

In this neutral venue, far divorced from the ground reality of a conflict that has killed more than 64,000 people, both sides have to keep in mind the millions of individuals who need a peaceful settlement.


Peace efforts

Background

BBC SINHALA SERVICE

BBC TAMIL SERVICE

TALKING POINT
See also:

14 Sep 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
13 Sep 02 | South Asia
13 Sep 02 | Business
11 Sep 02 | South Asia
09 Sep 02 | South Asia
09 Sep 02 | South Asia
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