The government`s ministerial delegation to the Geneva round will meet President Mahinda Rajapakse for a full debriefing today before addressing the media on the results of this much-awaited confab, official sources said.
Meanwhile, a delegation source reveals that the atmosphere on the first day of deliberations had been strained and almost hostile. `The first day was a little tough and strained,` he said. `Nevertheless, it worked out well.`
The two sides did not meet at common receptions but were regularly `bumping into each other`. This had helped improve relations. `We met in corridors and all that,` the source noted. `There was mixing around. Some people know the LTTE delegation from before. Later, Anton Balasingham and Adele presented copies of their books to members of the government team.`
`This was a new team under a new government, meeting for the first time,` he continued. `Earlier, there had been six rounds of negotiations and the two parties had measured each other up. The first day was difficult but things improved.`
Despite trepidation over the president`s choice of negotiators, the team that met the LTTE at Chateau de Bossey had been `very much better prepared than the LTTE,` the source claimed.
`Only two subjects were taken up for discussion but we were ready for more than eight,` he said. `We were equipped with an enormous amount of data and had prepared for over one-and-a-half months. We had also agreed among ourselves how each item would be handled.`
Main issues aside, logistical matters had also cropped up. The government had fielded a large support team outside of the core group. As the talks progressed, the LTTE had expressed some concern about the number of officials in the room.
Earlier rounds of talks had seen the participation of just ten members apiece (six main negotiators and four in the second tier) and the LTTE had stuck to that formula.
However, the Tigers later felt uncomfortable with the large government team and had said so. They pointed out that they, too, had eminent experts that they could have involved.
`We told the Norwegians that we want the number that we want,` the source said. `Our contention was that we took the talks seriously and that it was up to the LTTE to include the experts that they preferred.`
The talks started off with both sides `staking theirs claims very clearly`. `Our statement was not harsh but it was strong and factual,` another government source said. `If the LTTE had wished to challenge our facts, we were prepared to give credence to what we were saying.`
At one stage, Nimal Siripala de Silva, head of the government delegation, had read out details of LTTE ceasefire violations complete with statistics. The LTTE had not responded. `Had they done so, Inspector General of Police Chandra Fernando was ready with further information,` he elaborated.
Most of the first day was spent on the inaugural speeches and the issue of child soldiers. Towards close, LTTE chief negotiator Anton Balasingham had said they wanted to take up `paramilitaries` but agreed to postpone it till the next day as there as no time.
When the question of `paramilitaries` was taken up the next day, the government maintained the position that they did not support any armed elements in areas under their control. The LTTE responded that they had information to the contrary. The government said they did not allow anybody other than the army to be armed in those areas.
`Naturally, the two parties looked at the subject in different ways,` the source said. The final statement saw the state agreeing to `ensure that no armed group or person other than government security forces will carry arms or conduct armed operations` in regions under their control. The government also maintained the stance that they were not responsible for any such activity in areas under LTTE-control. `We cannot go after them (armed elements),` the delegation had stressed.
The LTTE had steadfastly resisted any efforts to change the ceasefire, although the government had suggested it and tried to clinch agreement. They even had specific proposals for change, having prepared for any eventuality.
`Of course, we had known the LTTE`s position earlier,` one of the sources averred. `They stuck to their stance that the ceasefire agreement was not up for amendment.` Agence France Press quotes Balasingham as saying that the government had backed down only after the LTTE threatened to walk out of the talks. The source put this down `to a bit psychological warfare by Balasingham`. It wasn`t possible to independently verify this information.
There had been discussion, also, on the many claymore mine and other attacks staged by the LTTE since December. To this, Balasingham had cryptically responded: `In war, yes, we kill soldiers. Our soldiers kill your soldiers in a state of war.` He didn`t explain the statement or why the attacks had heightened during the past one-and-a-half months. The LTTE undertook to stop the assaults as part of their renewed adherence to the ceasefire agreement.