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Sri Lanka, Tamil rebels say little chance for peace talks soon

Sri Lanka, Tamil rebels say little chance for peace talks soon
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First Published: Fri, Apr 20 2007. 09 11 AM IST
Updated: Fri, Apr 20 2007. 09 11 AM IST
Sydney/Colombo: Sri Lanka’s government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, engaged in the worst fighting since a 2002 cease-fire, said there is little chance of holding peace talks soon.
“The government is already on the move for a military solution,’’ Irasiah Ilanthirayan, a spokesman for the LTTE, said in a telephone interview yesterday from its headquarters at Kilinochchi in northern Sri Lanka. “As long as Colombo is adamant with that attitude, there is no chance in the near future for a negotiated solution.’’
The LTTE has failed to respond to the government’s calls for talks, Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona said this week.
Fighting in the South Asian island nation escalated last year as two attempts at peace talks in Geneva failed to make progress toward ending the two-decade conflict with the LTTE. The 2002 cease-fire, brokered by Norway, helped bring about uninterrupted growth in Sri Lanka’s $26 billion (Rs1,09,195 crore) economy.
International donors, led by the U.S., Japan, the European Union and Norway, have appealed to both sides to come to peace talks to prevent a resumption of war.
“The government has expressed its readiness for talks, but there has been no positive response from the LTTE,’’ Kohona said. “I leave it to the public to decide the value of the truce, which the LTTE has used to regroup militarily.’’
The Tamil Tigers, who want a separate homeland in areas of the north and east they control, have an estimated 12,000 fighters, including 4,000 members of their Sea Tigers force.
The group last month revealed it has an air wing when two light-wing aircraft dropped bombs on the airbase near Sri Lanka’s international airport that lies about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the capital, Colombo.
“We are keeping the doors open for a negotiated settlement,’’ the LTTE’s Ilanthirayan said. “The cease-fire agreement is that door. Unfortunately, Colombo wants to get through the walls, which seems too hard for them.’’
The army inflicted defeats on LTTE forces this year, overrunning 16 rebel camps in the northeast in January and last week seizing the eastern region around Batticaloa after taking control of the main road link for the first time in 14 years.
Fighting around Batticaloa last month forced an estimated 95,000 civilians to flee to join 60,000 people already in refugee camps in the area, according to the United Nations.
Jaffna Region
The collapse of Sri Lanka’s peace process last year led to an estimated 600,000 people needing emergency aid in the northern Jaffna region after the main road was cut during fighting in August, according to the UN.
“We have no other choice than preparing to face the government’s military agenda,’’ Ilanthirayan said. “The longer this exists, the people in our homeland will pay the price.’’
The rebels say Tamils, who make up less than a fifth of Sri Lanka’s population of 20 million, are discriminated against by the majority Sinhalese.
The government and LTTE, classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S., the EU and India, have accused each other of using civilians as human shields in the fighting in the eastern region.
Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa has asked political parties to produce a new plan on giving some powers to the Tamil community to try to bring an end to the conflict. The LTTE wants an interim self-government established in areas it controls before a peace settlement is reached.
“We want to go into substantial issues for a political solution, and not just talk on the peripheral issues,’’ Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, who led the government delegation at the October peace talks, said earlier this week. “It is a matter of interpretation whether the truce is dead.’’
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First Published: Fri, Apr 20 2007. 09 11 AM IST
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