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Sri Lanka Peace Talks Under Way in Geneva

  • Lisa Schlein

Two days of talks aimed at resolving Sri Lanka's long-running civil war have begun with a stark warning from the chief negotiator that the international community was losing patience with the warring parties. The Norwegian mediator urged representatives of the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tiger rebels to seize the moment to make peace. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva, where the talks are taking place.

The negotiations got off to a formal, tense start as both delegations shook hands as the chief negotiator looked on. Norway's minister of international development, Erik Solheim, has been mediating the on-again, off-again Sri Lankan peace talks for eight years. And his frustration at the inability of the government and Tamil Tiger rebels to come to terms was evident.

He said the Sri Lankan people were getting impatient about finding a solution and that the international community was also growing impatient.

"As you well know, Sri Lanka is just one of many conflicts," he said. "It has been one of the very violent conflicts in the world. But, there are so many other conflicts and every political leader in the world tends to focus on one or two of them at a time. So, if you want, I think, time has now come where you will be able to get the attention of political leaders all over the world. If you move forward, they will be with you to the last person."

The last time the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels held face-to-face talks was in February. Since then, the humanitarian situation in the country has seriously deteriorated.

Solheim says between 1,000 and 2,000 people have been killed, adding to the more than 60,000 that have been killed since the conflict began more than 25 years ago.

"There have been a lot of human rights abuses," he said. "There have been disappearances. There have been military campaigns and there have been terrorist killings. Of course, the aim of these talks is to find ways to reduce and put a stop to violence and then to move on to political discussions which [are] crucial for solving the conflict."

Solheim said the war is not winnable and the only way to make peace is through dialogue. He said there is an international consensus that peace will only come when the warring parties address three issues at the same time, not in isolation.

He said they must end the humanitarian suffering in Sri Lanka. They must end their military campaigns. They must tackle the underlying political problems that exist.

The rebels have been fighting since 1983 for a separate homeland for the Tamil minority, citing decades of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.