Tamil Tigers say they may reconsider peace talks if government supports rivals
Fri February 3, 2006 08:07 EST .
KRISHAN FRANCIS - Associated Press Writer - KOKKADICHCHOLAI, Sri Lanka - (AP) Tamil Tiger rebels may reconsider their decision to resume peace talks if Sri Lanka - 's government encourages attacks against their members by rival groups, a senior leader said Friday.
``We see the act of government forces sheltering paramilitary groups as a hidden plan to force us to decide against attending the peace talks,'' Pakkiyaraja Thayamohan, a senior Tiger political leader for eastern Sri Lanka - , said in an interview at his base in Kokkadichcholai.
Kokkadichcholai is a rebel-held region of Batticaloa district 220 kilometers (135 miles) east of the capital, Colombo.
The Tigers often refer to rival groups former Tamil separatist groups which gave up their armed struggle after a failed Indian-brokered peace accord in 1987 as ``paramilitants'' and accuse them of working with the Sri Lankan military.
The government and the Tamil Tigers agreed on Feb. 25 to resume talks on ending one of Asia's longest-running civil conflicts. The negotiations, to be held in Switzerland at a still undecided time, would be their first direct talks in nearly three years.
``After agreeing to peace talks in Geneva, our leader freed a policeman who was in our custody as a goodwill gesture, but on the same day the government's paramilitary groups attacked our cadres and killed one of them,'' Thayamohan said.
He also charged that paramilitants had kidnapped 10 staff members of a relief group affiliated with the Tigers near a military checkpoint earlier this week and were still holding eight of them.
``When the situation is deteriorating in this manner we may be pushed to reconsider our decision to attend peace talks,'' Thayamohan said.
Also Thursday, the Tamil Tigers presented a teenager to the media who claimed to have been a member of a faction that split from the Tigers in 2004 and is now operating under the protection of the Sri Lankan military.
Fifteen-year-old Senthilnathan Arulraj claimed that he surrendered to the mainstream Tamil Tigers after spending six months in a renegade rebel camp allegedly protected by the government military.
Arulraj said he was abducted by the renegade group about six months ago and was given military training under duress.
``There were about 70 of us in the camp and the army used to visit us at least thrice every day,'' he said.
It was not possible to independently verify Arulraj's claims.
The government has repeatedly denied protecting former Tamil militants and using them to attack the Tigers. It also has denied any knowledge of the alleged abduction of the relief workers.
The Tamil Tigers began fighting for a separate state for ethnic minority Tamils in 1983, claiming discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.
More than 65,000 people were killed before a Norway-brokered cease-fire was signed in 2002. Peace talks broke down in April 2003 when the Tigers withdrew, demanding more autonomy for the Tamil-majority north and east.
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Published: Fri Feb 3 10:57:33 EST 2006