Sri Lankan government, Tamil Tiger negotiators end peace talks without breakthroughs
Sun October 29, 2006 12:15 EST .
Associated Press Writer
GENEVA (AP) _ Sri Lankan government and rebel Tamil Tiger negotiators failed to reach any major breakthrough in a new round of peace talks that ended Sunday in an atmosphere clouded by new tensions in the Indian Ocean island nation.
The two days of talks ended on schedule without the two sides even agreeing on a date for a new round of talks, said Erik Solheim, Norway's minister for international development.
``No agreement was reached by the parties on how to address the humanitarian crisis,'' Solheim told reporters.
Hopes were slim from the outset that a 2002 Norwegian-brokered cease-fire could be revived, with both sides refusing to give way on key issues, including humanitarian access to the northern Jaffna Peninsula.
Sri Lanka's Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, who led the government delegation, said the government offered sea access to Jaffna, but that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the rebels' formal name, had refused the offer.
``The ball is in the LTTE's court,'' he said.
He said the rebels refused to agree on a new date for talks because of the government had rejected their demand that a key road be reopened to allow humanitarian supplies to be taken north. The government insists that a sea route is cheaper and more efficient.
The rebels said the sea access was inadequate to allow aid agencies to provide relief to the Tamils living in the Jaffna region which has been cut off by fierce fighting, leaving thousands without food and other essential supplies.
``Closure of the A9 highway has resulted in an open prison for more than 600,000 people,'' said an LTTE statement, adding that agreement to open the route was a precondition to the rebels' accept a new date for talks.
Solheim said both sides, however, had told the Norwegian mediators that they would refrain from launching any offensives.
``The proof of that pudding is in the eating,'' Solheim said.
Earlier Sunday a Tamil Tiger delegate taking part in talks warned of ``serious consequences'' if the island nation's military advances while negotiations are under way.
``Our troops along the Northern Province defense line noticed a heavy military presence, and informants tell us they have imposed a curfew along the defense line,'' the rebels' military spokesman, Rasiah Ilanthirayan, told The Associated Press. ``This is usually done in preparation for military operations. We are very disappointed by the actions of the government. Exploitation ... for military advancement can cause serious consequences.''
Ilanthirayan did not spell out what the consequences of military action might be.
He said shelling took place overnight in Muhamalai, Kilali and Nagarkovil villages along a line that divides government and rebel territories in the northern Jaffna peninsula.
In Sri Lanka the military said one Tamil Tiger rebel and five civilians were killed Sunday when a bomb allegedly carried by the guerrilla exploded prematurely in Udupiddy village, on the northern Jaffna peninsula, 300 kilometers (185 miles) north of the capital, Colombo.
The military said on its Web site that suspected Tamil Tigers attacked a Special Task Force camp late Saturday in the eastern district of Ampara and that the elite forces retaliated, killing two insurgents. Earlier in the day, the military had said militants shot and killed a soldier and wounded six police officers in bomb attacks in the north and east.
Renewed fighting between Tamil Tigers and government forces has killed some 2,000 soldiers, rebels and civilians this year.
The Norwegian-sponsored peace talks, held under heavy security for the second time in Switzerland this year, have so far produced little in the way of tangible progress toward reviving the cease-fire agreement or ending the 23-year civil war in the South Asian country. Overall more than 65,000 people have been killed.
Rohitha Bogollagama, Sri Lanka's development minister and delegate at the talks, told the AP that the government was worried about the rebels profiting from aid trucks going through their territory.
``One of the factors that has to be taken into account is the practice of the LTTE of levying extortionate fees on transport through the areas that they control,'' Bogollagama said.
``The result is that goods that reach Jaffna are invariable more expensive than they are in the south,'' he said.
The Tigers, who have been fighting for an independent homeland in northern and eastern Sri Lanka since 1983, accuse the government of engaging in an ``undeclared war'' in contravention of the 2002 cease-fire plan.
The government says the Tigers do not represent the will of the Tamil minority on the island, and are guilty of serious human rights abuses _ including the recruitment of child soldiers.
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Published: Sun Oct 29 13:33:08 EST 2006