Ruling coalition's victory in local Sri Lankan polls to help Tamil Tiger peace process
Sat April 1, 2006 01:00 EST .
DILIP GANGULY - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapake has a fresh mandate to continue peace talks with Tamil Tiger rebels after his ruling coalition's overwhelming victory in local elections, state-run media said Saturday.
Rajapakse's United Peoples' Freedom Alliance won majorities in 222 out of 264 local councils where results were declared, the Government Information Department said Saturday. The main opposition United National Party which previously controlled most councils won 32 seats, and minor parties won the other 10 seats.
Remaining results for two councils were expected later Saturday, the department said. Elections in the north and east where the Tigers operate have been postponed until Sept. 30 due to security concerns.
The Tamil Tigers began fighting in 1983 to create a separate state for ethnic minority Tamils, accusing the majority Sinhalese of discrimination. More than 65,000 people were killed before a 2002 cease-fire, now under threat due to rising violence.
Rajapakse says he wants to go ahead with the talks and come to a settlement. Others oppose concessions to the rebels.
``No doubt, this augers well for the future and the peace process,'' the state-run Daily News said in an editorial Saturday.
``For, if we are to make some headway in resolving the conflict, the country's communities need to accept each other as people of one country, always able and willing to give peaceful coexistence a try.''
The editorial said the election victory should be seen as giving the government ``a fresh mandate by the people to work toward a just and honorable peace.''
``Sri Lankans have clearly endorsed his policies, specially his handling of the peace process,'' said Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council, an independent think tank.
Controlling the councils which deal with the day-to-day affairs of towns and clusters of villages will provide Rajapakse with a power base for future parliamentary and presidential elections.
Rajapakse heads a minority government in the federal Parliament. The present Parliament began in April 2004 for a term of up to six years, but the president can order new elections to try to secure a majority.
Recent violence has threatened the government-rebel truce brokered by Norway in February 2002. More than 166 people, including 87 government security personnel, have been killed since December in violence blamed mostly on the rebels.
The rebels and the government are scheduled to meet in Switzerland April 19-20 for next round of peace talks.
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Published: Sat Apr 1 13:29:09 EST 2006