Strike called by Tamil Tigers shuts down two northern districts in Sri Lanka
Thu December 2, 2004 02:25 EST .
DILIP GANGULY - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) A strike called by Tamil Tiger rebels shut down two northern districts and severed road links Thursday in an apparent protest against alleged police excesses, a day after the government rejected the guerrillas' demand to unconditionally restart peace talks or risk a resumption of civil war. Sri Lanka - 's Defense Ministry said road links with the north remained cut off after rebels closed entry points.
``Thousands of people are stranded, some of them needing medical care,'' Defense Ministry spokesman Brig. Daya Ratnayake said in the capital, Colombo. Between 12,000 to 15,000 people use the road, a major supply route to the Tamil-dominated Jaffna peninsula that is overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The Defense Ministry said it was watching the situation in the districts of Vavuniya and Mannar where the strike has brought normal life to a standstill, residents reached by telephone said. The Tamil-dominated districts are traditional rebel strongholds.
``We are keeping close watch and it is peaceful,'' ministry spokesman Brig. Daya Ratnayake said in the capital, Colombo.
The Tamil Tiger rebels have been fighting since 1983 to carve out a separate state, accusing the majority Sinhalese of discrimination against minority Tamils.
Thursday's strike was the second called by the rebels since the weekend. A similar strike in the port city of Trincomalee left three people dead and strained the fragile cease-fire.
The military says the rebels are deliberately creating tension.
Relations between the rebels and the government further soured Saturday when Prabhakaran said that if the Sri Lankan government rejects his appeal for immediate peace talks ``we have no alternative other than to advance the freedom struggle of our nation.'' He stopped short of directly saying that hostilities could resume.
But even as Prabhakaran called on the government to hold unconditional talks, he set his own terms for the negotiations, saying they should be based on the rebels' controversial self-rule plan.
That proposal calls for a largely independent territory for Tamils, 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.
In the government's first reaction to Prabhakaran's speech, a statement chastised the rebels for their ``threatening language.''
It said the Liberation Tigers of Tamileelam wants ``a resumption of negotiations without conditions, while setting conditions itself by insisting unilaterally on a single agenda item,'' adding it ``is scarcely conducive to good-faith negotiations.''
The statement said the government was not opposed to discussing the interim administration status for the rebels, but the talks should also involve ``exploring a permanent settlement,'' along the lines of a federal solution.
There was no immediate comment on the government statement 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.
Published: Thu Dec 2 08:06:42 EST 2004