Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)
on Talks in Switzerland
21 February 2006
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Reporter: Kasra Naji
ELEANOR HALL: In the first high-level contact between the Sri
Lankan Government and the Tamil Tigers since 2003, Government envoys have flown
to Switzerland for crucial talks with the rebels aimed at preserving a four-year
truce and averting a slide back into civil war.
The meeting is seen as critical in stopping the series of deadly attacks that
have threatened to reignite a war that's killed more than 64,000 people.
But on the ground in rebel-held territory, suspicions linger about the
Reporter Kasra Naji has been in the rebel held town of Mulaitivu, and filed this
(Sound of busy road)
KASRA NAJI: Hundreds of people died here on this stretch of beach, just outside
Mulaitivu, when the tsunami hit. What had not been destroyed by more than 20
years of war was demolished by nature, and now, just as the survivors begin to
put the tragedy behind them, war is looming on the horizon once again.
(Sound of engine starting)
Fishermen fire up their boat engine to go searching for two fellow fishermen who
have gone missing. A rumour has just spread that the bodies of the two have been
washed up on the beach a few kilometres off the coast.
Subamali (phonetic) is the mother of one of the missing fishermen. A survivor of
the tsunami, she lost her grandchildren then, and now she's unsure whether she
will ever see her son again.
As she waits for the search party to come back, she says the two went out to
fish one evening in late January and never returned. Like the fishermen here,
she suspects the Sri Lankan navy, which patrols the coast along rebel-controlled
territory, may have killed or abducted them.
On the beach, fellow fishermen are sitting on the sand, staring out at the sea,
bracing themselves for the worst.
A spate of similar kidnappings and killings of both Tamils and Singhalese has
added to the tension here. Already this area was on the brink of war because of
increasing instances of ceasefire violations. Norwegian mediators have managed
to bring the two sides together – a last chance for the countries to be stopped
from sliding back into civil war.
The chief negotiator of the Tamil Tiger rebels is Anton Balasingham. He believes
the main problem is the Government's failure to implement the ceasefire
ANTON BALASINGHAM: The real problem with the ceasefire agreement is the
non-implementation of the terms and conditions of the ceasefire agreement, has
caused the escalation of violence in the recent past.
What we are suggesting is let us discuss about why these terms and conditions
have not been implemented. Let us implement it properly and stabilise the
ceasefire. That is the first step that the both parties had to take. Then on the
stabilisation of the ceasefire, we can talk about other issues.
KASRA NAJI: In the capital Colombo, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala
Samaraweera puts the blame on the Tamil Tiger rebels for undermining the
MANGALA SAMARAWEERA: Since the ceasefire took place four years ago there have
been nearly 4,000 violations, according to the monitoring mission, as opposed to
only 148 by the Government of Sri Lanka.
The Government has been very patient and restrained, and that is why we will
want to ensure that during the first round of talks we'll concentrate on
strengthening the ceasefire agreement so that both sides can feel happy before
they proceed to the substantive part of the talks, which would be about finding
a long-term solution to the ethnic (inaudible).
KASRA NAJI: Back on the beach in Mulaitivu, the boat that had gone to see to
search for the bodies comes back with only the jacket of one of the missing
fishermen. It had been washed up on the beach, no sign of the body.
(Sound of Subamali crying)
The black imitation leather jacket has stoked Subamali's grief - one more reason
for her to fear the worst.
(Sound of Subamali crying)
Three weeks since the two went missing, there's still no word from them. The
ceasefire, enforced since 2001, initially raised hopes, but now many here fear a
return to war. They are pinning their hopes on the talks this week in Geneva.
Kasra Naji, Mulaitivu, rebel-held territory, Northern Sri Lanka.