Sri Lankan government rejects unconditional talks with Tamil Tiger rebels
Wed December 1, 2004 08:41 EST .
SHIMALI SENANAYAKE - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) The Sri Lankan government on Wednesday rejected a Tamil Tiger demand that it unconditionally resume peace talks under terms set by the rebels or risk the resumption of civil war. ``If the government of Sri Lanka - rejects our urgent appeal and adopts delaying tactics ... we have no alternative other than to advance the freedom struggle of our nation,'' Prabhakaran said, stopping short of directly saying that hostilities could resume.
``A call, couched in threatening language, from the (Tamil Tigers) now for a resumption of negotiations without conditions, while setting conditions itself by insisting unilaterally on a single agenda item is scarcely conducive to good-faith negotiations,'' a government statement said, in its first reaction to the speech.
Prabhakaran demanded that the government refrain from laying down conditions and resume peace talks based on the rebels' self-rule plan.
The rebels' proposal 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.
The government statement said it was ready to discuss ``the establishment of an interim authority, to meet the urgent humanitarian and development needs of the people of the north and east as a priority.''
But it said talks should also involve ``exploring a permanent settlement,'' along the lines of a federal solution.
``The absence of direct negotiations since April 2003 is of no benefit to anyone and is unsustainable,'' said the statement.
Norway's top peace broker, Erik Solheim, was scheduled to meet the rebels' chief negotiator, Anton Balasingham, in London Wednesday, ahead of arriving in Colombo on Dec. 13, in his latest attempt to bridge the chasm between the parties and jumpstart talks.
The government said it is engaged in a ``careful study'' of the rebel leaders' speech and is in communication with the Norwegian peace brokers ``on future steps to be taken in the peace process.''
The statement said the government was ``firmly committed to the strict maintenance,'' of the cease-fire and condemned all violations of the truce.
The Tiger rebels have been fighting since 1983 to carve out a separate state, accusing the majority Sinhalese of discrimination against minority Tamils.
There was no immediate comment from the rebels.
Norway brokered a cease-fire in February 2002 that halted the fighting, which had left nearly 65,000 people dead. However, subsequent peace talks broke down amid rebel demands for wide autonomy in the Tamil-majority north and east.
Trond Furuhovde, the top truce monitor, has warned that the cease-fire is under ``tremendous pressure,'' and urged a swift return to peace talks.
Published: Wed Dec 1 10:02:06 EST 2004