Wed October 6, 2004 07:39 EDT .
JONATHAN FOWLER - Associated Press Writer - CHAVANNES-DE-BOGIS, Switzerland (AP) Sri Lanka - 's government is hampering efforts to relaunch the island nation's deadlocked peace process and misrepresenting a plan put forward by its Tamil Tiger opponents, a senior rebel leader said. No immediate reaction was available from Sri Lankan authorities. On Monday, however, President Chandrika Kumaratunga said she wanted to restart talks to prevent Sri Lanka - sliding back into conflict.
Thamilselvan rejected accusations that the rebels themselves are at fault for insisting that negotiations center on their so-called Interim Self-Governing Authority plan and not on a separate government proposal on power-sharing. The rebel plan is the only one ``based on ground reality,'' he said.
``We're not manipulating things to delay the peace process. Our cards are on the table,'' he said. ``We have said, 'Yes, we will sit down and talk.'''
Thamilselvan is the political head of the Tamil Tigers. He spoke to the AP following a five-day meeting with European-based Tamils behind closed doors at a Lake Geneva hotel.
Switzerland is home to some 22,000 Tamil exiles who have fled since fighting broke out in 1983 between the Tigers and government forces.
The rebels aim to carve out an independent homeland for the island's northeastern Tamil minority, who claim discrimination by the three-quarters majority Sinhalese. Nearly 65,000 people were killed before the two sides signed a Norwegian-brokered truce in February 2002, but formal peace talks were suspended in April 2003.
Although the truce still holds in principle, the island has been gripped by escalating violence that has killed scores of people.
The Tigers presented their plan in October 2003. President Kumaratunga, who initially rejected it as a step toward a separate state, last July offered to discuss the idea along with government proposals to keep Sri Lanka - together.
The rebel plan calls for a largely independent territory with control over its own administration, police and legal system, unrestricted access to the sea, and the right to collect taxes and receive direct foreign aid.
Thamilselvan said the proposal is moderate.
``The (government) perception is that the we have put forward a 'blueprint for a separate state.' This has to be countered, because this is not a proposal for secession. For secession, no one prepares a blueprint you just secede and go,'' he said, speaking through an interpreter.
However, he declined to say whether the plan means the Tigers have given up their goal of independence.
``The end product would be something that would be agreed by the parties,'' he said. ``What's going happen at the end of the day is something we should not hasten to spell out.''
The Tigers have faced accusations of bad faith for stalling as they try to resolve internal splits. A former rebel commander led an unprecedented breakaway in March, taking with him some 6,000 fighters.
The criticism is ``just media hype,'' said Thamilselvan.
Thamilselvan denied Tiger involvement in scores of killings of anti-rebel Tamil politicians and alleged government informants.
He also rejected criticism by international human rights groups and the United Nations, which have slammed the Tigers for recruiting thousands of child soldiers, sometimes by force. Although many have been discharged, some returned to Tiger camps because they have nowhere else to go and are looking for a ``safe haven,'' he said.
Published: Wed Oct 6 08:31:45 EDT 2004