[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 3 May, 2004, 14:04 GMT 15:04 UK
What now for Sri Lanka peace?

By Frances Harrison
BBC correspondent in Colombo

Norwegian deputy foreign minister Vidar Helgesen and Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga
Norwegian envoy Vidar Helgesen with President Kumaratunga
Norwegian mediators in the Sri Lankan peace process have been having what they call exploratory talks with both sides to see if peace negotiations can resume.

The Norwegians have been cautious, playing down unrealistic statements by the government that peace talks might start again as soon as the end of the month.

Had they asked for something in writing to define their role - as many expected - the process might have been delayed even further.

But it looks as if criticism of Norway's role in the past by President Chandrika Kumaratunga's party has been more for domestic consumption than anything else.

Similarly, the new government has made much of how it wants neighbouring India more involved in the peace process.

But diplomats say they see no real change in Delhi's role on the ground.

Building up trust

Some reports said the Norwegians had discussions with former Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe before meeting the president on Sunday.

However, diplomats say in fact the two sides met by accident at a hotel in the hill country and did not discuss anything substantive as the Norwegians felt the timing was improper.

But when the Norwegian delegation met the president they stressed the need to build up trust.

They reportedly told her that it was very important for the Sri Lankan government not to make unilateral statements to the media on the peace process without first informing the Tamil Tigers of the content.

There has been concern that the president's more confrontational style might alienate the rebels.

But overall diplomats say the greatest threat to the peace process is the instability of the new minority government.

While renewed conflict is not in the interest of either side, the fear is that those in power in Colombo now may be so preoccupied with their own survival that they cannot make real progress.

The Norwegians have been worried for some time about how long the ceasefire between the government and Tamil Tigers can hold without any parallel political process, though they do acknowledge both sides have shown restraint.

If nothing else, keeping the dialogue process alive is a way to strengthen the truce until there is a government in Colombo that has enough courage and clout to strike a deal with the rebels.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific