Sri Lanka government, opposition to discuss common approach to solving separatist conflict
Thu August 31, 2006 11:32 EDT .
Associated Press Writer
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Sri Lanka's main opposition party said Thursday it is prepared to work together with the government to try to solve the country's violent separatist conflict, but analysts warned that a combined effort won't be easy to implement.
United National Party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe said in a letter to President Mahinda Rajapakse that his party was ready to discuss ways to cooperate with the government to try to resolve the island nation's ethnic conflict which has killed over 65,000 people since 1983.
His letter was sent in response to an invitation by Rajapakse for a discussion, as government troops and separatist Tamil Tiger rebels engaged in heavy artillery and mortar battles in the volatile northeast.
``It is desirable and even necessary for a lasting solution that the main opposition parties and the government should collaborate in peace making. However the challenge will be for them to agree on a common approach,'' said Jehan Perera, an analyst at the independent National Peace Council, a Colombo-based think tank.
``At present the government is utilizing the military to soften up the LTTE. But the UNP's approach is to deal with the LTTE only through international mediated political negotiations,'' Perera said referring to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the formal name for the Tamil Tiger rebel group.
``The past experience suggests that a common approach will be difficult to obtain.''
Sri Lanka's top-ranking general on Thursday vowed that within a few days the military would take control of an eastern, Tamil rebel-held enclave where fierce fighting since the weekend has killed scores of combatants and forced hundreds from their homes.
Analysts, however, said that even if the military did seize Sampur, it would not end the state's more than two-decade conflict with ethnic Tamil separatists.
UNP spokesman Tissa Attanayake said the two parties will soon decide on a start date for the talks.
Cooperation between Sri Lanka's government and the main opposition party would be required to push through any Parliamentary proposals to devolve areas where ethnic Tamils form the majority of the population.
A two-thirds majority is required in the 225-member Parliament to implement any amendments to Sri Lanka's constitution.
However, combined efforts between the country's main parties have been rare.
In 2000, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga's attempt to implement constitutional reforms failed after a last-minute refusal by the UNP to support the move.
Hundreds of combatants and civilians have died since Aug.11 when fresh clashes broke out between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka's north and east.
The fighting had brought a 2002 Norway-brokered cease-fire to virtual collapse.
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Published: Thu Aug 31 12:43:53 EDT 2006