New Delhi, India — Talks between the Sri Lankan government and six Tamil separatist groups on finding a solution to the island country’s ethnic crisis opened today in Bhutan, the Bhutanese Embassy announced.

An Embassy statement said Bhutanese Foreign Minister Lyonpo Dawa Tsering welcomed the delegates during an opening session in the Bhutanese capital Thimpu.

Both sides agreed to begin substantive discussions Tuesday, the statement said.

“The discussions on the organization of work of the meeting was held in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and was characterized by mutual understanding and accommodation,’ the Bhutanese statement added.

Bhutan has kept journalists away from the talks and denied visas to Western reporters.

The Indian brokered talks opened despite threats by the four main Tamil rebel groups the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, The Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization, the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front and the Eelam Revolutionary Organization to boycott the talks.

The four, who together form the Eelam National Liberation Front, agreed to send delegates following several days of talks with Indian officials in New Delhi. The government of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi helped organize the talks following a meeting last month between the Indian leader and Sri Lankan President Junius R. Jayewardene.

The meeting between the two leaders also paved the way for a June 18 ceasefire between Sri Lankan forces and Tamils seeking to carve an independent state in the north and eastern parts of the island nation, once known as Ceylon.

Tamils, who are largely Hindu, have charged discrimination at the hands of the mostly Buddhist Sinhalese, who dominate the Colombo government. Tamils comprise about 18 percent of Sri Lanka’s 5 million people.

United News of India, in a dispatch from the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, said Tamils staged a general strike Monday in Jaffna district to protest the talks. Schools and most shops were closed.

UNI, a private agency, said about 5,000 Tamils marched through the streets of Jaffna, a Tamil stronghold, carrying placards accusing the government of stalling on concessions to Tamils and predicting the Bhutan talks would fail.

No incidents were reported, according to the dispatch.

Heading the Sri Lankan delegation is Hector Jayewardene, brother of the president and a legal adviser. Tamil rebels charged that he lacked political authority to conduct substantial negotiations.

In response, most of the Tamil groups sent second ranking leaders.

Also represented at the conference are the Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam and the main Tamil political party, The Tamil United Liberation Front.

Article extracted from this publication >>  July 12, 1985