Tamil Tigers reject direct meeting with Sri Lanka 's president
Tue May 23, 2006 12:42 EDT .
KRISHAN FRANCIS - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Tamil Tiger rebels on Tuesday rejected pleas from Buddhist and Catholic priests to hold direct talks with Sri Lanka - 's president to stop the island nation from sliding back to full-scale civil war. Norway has played a mediatory role in Sri Lanka - 's peace process since 2000.
The priests told Thamilselvan that Rajapakse had expressed his desire to meet the reclusive leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Velupillai Prabhakaran, to find a negotiated solution to the island's protracted conflict.
Erik Solheim, who negotiated Sri Lanka - 's 2002 government-rebel cease-fire and is now Norway's international development minister, was set to arrive Thursday to join fellow envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer, due a day earlier, said government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella.
The envoys hope talks with government and rebel leaders will bring them back to peace talks that have stalled amid rising violence and recriminations between the sides. A senior Tamil Tiger rebel leader said the envoys' chances were ``bleak.''
On Tuesday, the military said that they killed a guerrilla after a group of rebels fired at the soldiers in eastern Sri Lanka - , the army media unit said.
The attack took place close to eastern Batticaloa town, 220 kilometers (140 miles) east of the capital, Colombo, while the soldiers were patrolling the streets on foot. Government troops did not suffer injuries, it added.
``They will talk to the parties to make them return to the table,'' Rambukwella said. ``We are ready to resume the peace process.''
Senior rebel leader Seevaratnam Puleedevan said resuming peace talks is unlikely as long as attacks he blamed on the government were still being launched.
``The situation has not improved; violence against us is going on,'' Puleedevan said by the telephone from Kilinochchi.
``The prospects are bleak, but nevertheless let the Norwegian envoys discuss how the situation can be improved,'' he said. ``We have to wait and see.''
The government and the rebels held peace talks in Geneva in February but a second round slated for April was canceled after the two sides blamed rising violence on each other.
Tensions rose again on Saturday, when Col. Ramanan, the Tigers' No. 2 leader and intelligence chief for eastern Sri Lanka - , was killed in an ambush.
A breakaway Tamil group claimed responsibility, and the military denied involvement. But the mainstream rebels blamed the government.
``LTTE considers this attack is intended to end all efforts toward peace and drag the LTTE into a major war,'' said a statement on a rebel Web site.
The rebel movement split in 2004, when one of its military commanders broke away with 6,000 fighters.
The Tigers accuse the government of supporting the breakaway group in its attacks on the mainstream faction's fighters a charge the army denies.
Surging violence has killed nearly 300 people since April, raising fears that Sri Lanka - is heading back to full-scale civil war.
The Tigers have fought the government since 1983, demanding a separate homeland for the minority Tamils, claiming discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.
More than 65,000 people were killed before the 2002 cease-fire accord halted 19 years of open warfare.
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Published: Tue May 23 14:06:53 EDT 2006