Sri Lankan president's allies call for strong army to stop rebels returning to war
Mon March 6, 2006 05:40 EST .
BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Two parties aligned with Sri Lanka - 's president urged him on Monday to strengthen the armed forces to deter Tamil Tiger rebels from returning to war, as new violence threatened a four-year-old cease-fire.
``While continuing dialogue with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the government should also ramp up its strengthening and training of the armed forces so that the LTTE will realize that going to war is not an option,'' the Marxist People's Liberation Front said at meeting of the country's main political parties convened by President Mahinda Rajapakse.
A radical Buddhist monks' party, Jathika Hela Urumaya, also called for rebuilding the army.
Rajapakse summoned the leaders of all major political parties on Monday in a bid to salvage the country's faltering peace process, threatened by increasing violence as well as by sharp differences among his political allies.
``There was full support for the president's call for the peace process to go forward and succeed,'' said Lucian Rajakarunanayake, a spokesman for the president. ``There were divergent views on how to go about it, but all agreed that peace talks should go ahead.''
The meeting was held behind closed doors.
It was the first meeting of all major parties since Feb. 22-23 talks between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels in Geneva, where they agreed to scale down violence and meet again on April 19-21. Truce monitors fear a recent resumption of attacks with three deaths in three days could put the talks in jeopardy.
Rajapakse has been criticized by the Marxists and the Buddhist monks' party, as well as by the main opposition United National Party, on the way the peace process is being conducted.
The Marxists and the monks' party oppose any concessions for the rebels, who began fighting in 1983 to create a separate homeland for the island's 3.2 million Tamil minority.
The support of the two allies which together have 50 seats in the 225-member legislature is crucial for Rajapakse's minority government.
The opposition UNP, which previously said it would back the government's peace efforts, is now demanding more transparency. It was during an earlier UNP government that the Norwegian-brokered cease-fire was signed in 2002, ending nearly two decades of fighting that killed 65,000 people.
Recent violence has killed at least 150 people, including 81 government security officers, and led to an increase in tensions and concerns over the stability of the cease-fire.
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Published: Mon Mar 6 07:56:16 EST 2006