In an apparent softening of its stand, Sri Lanka has offered to hold talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam after a two-year gap, saying the outfit does represent a fair amount of Tamils but ruled out the immediate revival of the ceasefire scrapped in January.
"The Sri Lankan president has already announced that he is ready to talk with the LTTE," Basil Rajapakse, the Special Advisor to President Mahinda Rajapakse, said. On whether the president has specified that he will not talk unless the LTTE lays down arms, Basil merely said, "Those are conditions that have to be worked out."
"The government is always open to talks but the government needs to have a certain environment in which we can talk," Basil, a member of parliament and brother of the Sri Lankan president, told the Daily Mirror newspaper.
On being asked whether the LTTE represented the Tamil people, the senior advisor said, "Yes, they represent the Tamil people but they are not the only ones. That has been proved."
"But this doesn't mean they don't have the strength or that they represent no Tamils. The LTTE do represent a fair amount of Tamil people. Unfortunately their way of doing it can't be approved. Otherwise the president is always willing to have negotiations and a settlement. The best scenario is where we negotiate and settle it with the LTTE," Basil said.
The two sides had six round of talks after the 2002 ceasefire but the rebels pulled out in 2006. The peace process received a crushing blow in January when the government scrapped the tattered ceasefire, a move that unleashed a fresh wave of violence as the military intensified its offensive against the Tamil Tigers in the north.
On whether the government will respond positively if the Tigers offer a ceasefire tomorrow, Basil said, "That's like thinking of attaining Nirvana tomorrow. That takes time and effort.You can't just decide today and go for it tomorrow. It is too far way to think about at this stage. We have to be realistic."
"We are meeting the needs of the people and crushing terrorism while inviting the LTTE for negotiations. We are willing to look into their grievances," Basil Rajapakse said.
On the elections held for the Eastern Provincial Council on May 10, Rajapakse said the Sri Lankan president's policy was to give the people the right to decide what they want to do with their province.
"The people there have to decide where the next culvert is to be built or what form of governance will apply," he said.