Tamil rebels accuse Sri Lanka of failing to honor pledges given at Geneva talks
Wed April 5, 2006 05:47 EDT .
Associated Press Writer
KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka (AP) _ The Tamil Tiger rebels said Wednesday that the Sri Lankan government has failed to honor a pledge made at peace talks in Geneva earlier this year to disarm paramilitary groups.
``Our expectations were very high when the government delegation pledged in Geneva to end paramilitary activities and we are totally disappointed now over the accelerated pace of paramilitary violence,'' Tamil Tiger political chief S.P. Thamilselvan said after meeting with new Norwegian envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer, according to the rebel's Web site.
The Tigers split in 2004, and the mainstream group accuses the army of backing the breakaway faction. The government was not immediately available for comment, but Colombo has in the past denied such charges.
Hanssen-Bauer met with Tiger leaders in the rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi ahead of the next round of talks in Geneva, Switzerland later this month which will be crucial in view of the rising tension.
He was to return to the Sri Lankan capital later Wednesday and meet with Norway's top peace envoy, Erik Solheim on Thursday. The two will also meet with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse.
Solheim, who has been appointed Norway's minister of international development, has handed the day-to-day management of monitoring the 2002 Norway-brokered truce to Hanssen-Bauer.
Tension has been mounting in Sri Lanka since Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran warned in November that he would renew the violent struggle for an independent Tamil homeland if grievances with the government are not addressed.
Spiraling violence has put the cease-fire under tremendous pressure, with more than 166 people, including 87 government security personnel left dead since December.
Norway organized a meeting in Geneva in February at which the rebels and government pledged to scale down the violence, mostly in the north and east where the majority of Sri Lanka's 3.2 million Tamils live. They also agreed to meet again on April 19-21.
The interim period, however, has seen both sides accusing the other of violating the truce. The government accuses the separatist rebels of continuing to recruit underage combatants and attacking government troops.
In the most serious incident, suspected Tamil Tigers on March 26 blew up their fishing boat near a navy patrol off Sri Lanka's west coast, leaving six rebels and eight sailors missing, presumed dead, according to the military. The rebels denied involvement.
The Geneva meeting was the first high-level contact between the two sides since peace talks broke down in 2003 after six rounds of negotiation.
The Tigers began fighting in 1983 for a separate state for minority Tamils, claiming discrimination by the country's Sinhalese majority. The conflict has cost an estimated 65,000 lives.
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Published: Wed Apr 5 07:07:04 EDT 2006