Sri Lanka's media yesterday hailed a pact between the ruling and main opposition parties that includes cooperation on the peace process with the Tamil Tigers.
The pact signed on Monday between the two major parties in the Sinhalese-dominated south came five days ahead of key peace talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Analysts say greater unity in the normally politically divided south would help the government negotiate with more flexibility -- and public support -- with the rebels in talks in Geneva on Oct. 28 and Oct. 29.
"Bravo, they did it," read a headline in the Daily Mirror, referring to President Mahinda Rajapakse's governing Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the main opposition United National Party (UNP) of former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The Island said: "Cohabitation begins."
"It will certainly be a worrisome proposition for the LTTE, which claims it cannot trust any government to carry out a settlement it may agree to, as state politics and pacts don't survive elections," the Island said in an editorial.
"If the SLFP and UNP could agree on a political solution and offer it to the LTTE jointly, the LTTE will be left without excuses for continued bloodletting. This is the way forward," the Island said.
LTTE leaders were not available for comment but a leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), seen as the political proxy of the LTTE, said he welcomed the pact but with misgivings.
"If they really want to solve the problem, we welcome it," said N. Raviraj, TNA deputy from the restive Jaffna region.
"But as far as the TNA is concerned, we hold these two parties responsible for creating the [ethnic] problem. The Tamils are still not sure whether their intentions are genuine and have lost faith in the government," he said.
A four-member team for the Geneva talks -- headed by the rebels' political wing chief Suppiah Thamilselvan -- left the rebel-held town of Kilinochchi for the country's international airport in a government helicopter yesterday, a rebel spokesman said.
Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar accompanied the rebel negotiators who had earlier expressed security concerns about traveling outside rebel territory.
The government's team will be headed by Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva. The eight-member group, including three other Cabinet ministers, was scheduled to leave for Geneva today.
Meanwhile, a Tamil Tiger separatist was fatally shot while a government soldier was wounded in a bomb blast in the north yesterday.
Troops shot and killed an insurgent who had thrown a grenade at an army foot patrol in northern Jaffna peninsula, said an officer at the Media Center for National Security, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to policy.
Separately in Jaffna, one soldier was wounded when suspected rebels activated a roadside bomb, the officer said.