Sri Lanka gov't, rebels reaffirm truce: report+
Thu February 23, 2006 16:53 EST .
Associated Press Writer
GENEVA (AP) _ Sri Lankan government negotiators and Tamil Tiger rebels agreed Thursday to resume their cease-fire talks in April and restrain the level of violence, Norwegian mediator Erik Solheim said.
Solheim said the two sides agreed during two days of talks that they would meet again April 19-21 in Geneva in the effort to salvage their tattered cease-fire.
The opposing sides agreed to take ``all necessary measures to ensure that there will be no intimidation, acts of violence, abductions or killings,'' said a joint statement read by Solheim.
Both sides ``are committed to respecting and upholding the cease-fire agreement,'' the statement said.
The rebels committed to refrain from acts of violence against the military or police. And in a move to curb an offshoot of the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam that turned against the rebels, the government agreed that no one but security forces would be allowed to carry arms in government-controlled areas.
The conference fell short of its stated goal of taking practical steps toward strengthening the cease-fire. Instead, the government and rebels agreed on a two-month trial period to test each other's intentions.
It was made clear during at least one tense exchange that failure to live up to the commitments in the joint statement would result in an end to restraint and a resumption of attacks, said one rebel delegate, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not an authorized spokesman.
Solheim put a positive face on the results.
``This was above my expectations,'' Solheim said of the joint statement, adding that the two sides had begun to build confidence in each other. He said the talks were ``hard, tough, realistic, but also with humor.''
He said the level of violence had fallen significantly since the Geneva talks were announced four weeks ago.
``I expect there will be more deescalation after this event,'' Solheim said.
The two sides clashed at their opening meeting on Wednesday over whether to amend their truce agreement, signed exactly four years earlier. That issue remained unresolved Thursday and will be discussed at the next round in April.
``Both parties made compromises,'' said Anton Balasingham, the LTTE's chief negotiator.
The conference, held at a secluded chateau outside Geneva, was the first high-level contact between the two sides since peace talks broke down nearly three years ago.
Nearly 3,500 truce violations have been recorded since 2002, but a spike in violence starting last December, which claimed some 150 lives, raised fears that the Indian Ocean island was again on the brink of war.
On Thursday, an army spokesman in Colombo accused rebel gunmen of killing a Muslim man in eastern Sri Lanka, but the rebels denied involvement in Wednesday's shooting. The Tigers have a long history of hostility toward the Muslims, Sri Lanka's second largest minority after the Tamils, who are mostly Hindu or Christian.
The government had argued that the cease-fire had ``serious deficiencies'' because the Tamil Tigers had been able to build up forces, but the rebels maintained the document was well-crafted.
Peace talks broke down in 2003 after six rounds of negotiation that was converging on the idea of a federation _ a significant withdrawal from the rebels' original demand for full independence in the north and east where the minority Tamils are concentrated.
Tamil rebels have been fighting since 1983, complaining of systematic discrimination by the Sinhalese majority. The war killed 65,000 people before the cease-fire was signed in 2002.
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Published: Thu Feb 23 18:18:59 EST 2006