President Mahinda Rajapakse seems to prefer the cold climes of Iceland for talks with the LTTE, or at least he mooted the idea in a lighter vein during a meeting he had with the co-chairs to discuss the peace process and the security situation, officials involved in the talks said.
The meeting with mission heads of the United States, Britain, Japan, the European Union and Norway was convened at the behest of President Rajapakse two days after 12 sailors were killed in a suspected LTTE suicide attack on a Navy Fast Attack Craft.
But The Sunday Times learns that the suggestion from the President regarding the Iceland venue came in a lighter vein when the only reference to the venue?the main problem that is keeping the two parties from resuming talks?was made towards the end of the nearly two hours of talks.
?Gentlemen, Excellencies .... so where do you think we should have these talks?? President Rajapakse asked. ?Why not Iceland.... It`s cool there and the LTTE may also like it,? he said, somewhat jocularly. The diplomats, unsure how to respond, responded with soft chuckles.
Although it remains unclear if the LTTE is willing to explore this ?cool,? option, President Rajapakse`s preference to Iceland has its reasons. He had visited Iceland at least four times when he was minister of fisheries.
Associated with the President at the talks were Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, Treasury secretary P.B. Jayasundere, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse and Plan Implementation Secretary Ajith Nivard Cabraal.
Additional secretaries Githa de Silva, A. Amunugama and spokesperson Himalee Arunathilake represented the foreign ministry.
Peace Secretariat officials Seneka Abeyratne and Chulani Kodikara also attended the meeting while Chief of Defence Staff Daya Sandagiri, who is being probed on a controversial arms deal, was also present.
President Rajapaske arrived a little after 10 am, the scheduled time for the meeting.
He registered his condemnation of the attack on the Dvora and said everything would be done to protect the security forces and the civilians. He also said that ?excesses,? on the part of the security forces would not be tolerated.
The President also referred to what he called the ?brutal murders? of five students in Trincomalee, and assured that the perpetrators would be brought to justice.The diplomats lauded the government for the restraint it had shown and added that the government had definitely secured the moral high ground.
Discussions then shifted to the impending visit of Anton Balasingham.
Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar said LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran had wanted Mr. Balasingham with him during his meeting with Norwegian Minister and former peace envoy Erik Solheim on Jan. 25.
Mr. Brattskar said Norway supported Mr. Balasingham`s visit as he was a moderate who could make a valuable contribution to the process.
The Norwegian envoy called for maximum security for Mr. Balasingham and air-force transport to Kilinochchi upon his arrival in Colombo.
President Rajapakse expressed fears that the Air Force craft could be shot down on its return. He asked Mr. Brattskar to obtain an assurance from the LTTE that the aircraft would not be attacked. Last month, suspected rebels shot at an air-force helicopter which was on its way to pick up an Italian development minister visiting the east to inspect the tsunami reconstruction effort.
President Rajapakse made what seemed a jab at Norway, when he said the LTTE seemed uninterested in talks or the US$700 million in the pipeline for development of the north and east.
?They don`t need our money when they have other avenues,? he said.
U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Lunstead asked what the ethnic composition of the arrests made during the Strangers Night operation was. The President Rajapakse then summoned Police Chief Chandra Fernando to the meeting.The IGP assured the diplomats that the operation was not connected to the ethnic conflict but was aimed at ?cleaning up the streets?. It was a practice even followed by the British during the colonial period, he said.