Colombo spurns LTTE's talks offer

Published December 2, 2004

COLOMBO, Dec 1: Sri Lanka on Wednesday rejected rebel demands for an unconditional resumption of talks and accused Tiger guerrillas of undermining the Norwegian-backed peace process by using "threatening language."

In its first reaction to rebel warnings of a return to their "freedom struggle" unless Colombo ends the 19-month talks impasse, the government said the rebel stand announced by Tiger chief Velupillai Prabhakaran on Saturday was unacceptable.

"A call, couched in threatening language, from the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) for a resumption of negotiations without conditions, while setting conditions itself by insisting unilaterally on a single agenda item, is scarcely conducive to good-faith negotiations," the government said.

However Colombo said it was still committed to a negotiated settlement. "The government of Sri Lanka is in communication with the Royal Norwegian Government on future steps to be taken in the peace process," it said in a statement.

Colombo was ready to discuss the LTTE's proposal for self-rule but wanted parallel talks to explore a permanent settlement to the conflict which has claimed over 60,000 lives since 1972, the government said.

The Tigers want talks only on the basis of their self-rule plan known as the "Interim Self Governing Authority" unveiled in October last year. The government, however, said talks must be on the lines of a bipartisan agreement following peace talks in Oslo in December 2002, at which the Tigers agreed to explore a federal structure as a final settlement.

Prabhakaran said in his annual policy statement Saturday that Colombo should end the deadlock in peace talks by agreeing to negotiate on his blueprint for self-rule. The LTTE's London-based chief negotiator, Anton Balasingham, was quoted by Tamil media reports Monday as saying it was up to the Colombo government to decide if the rebels should return to war or peace.

"There is no interim solution forthcoming and neither is there a permanent solution," he was quoted as saying. "This cannot continue. Either we must talk or fight." Opposition parties and cease fire monitors have expressed fears that escalating violence in the north-eastern district of Trincomalee, where two people were killed since Monday, could undermine the truce.

Four previous peace attempts ended in failure and led to more bloodshed. The last bid broke down with hostilities erupting in the port district of Trincomalee in April 1995.

Prabhakaran, in his annual speech honouring thousands of his war dead, renewed his commitment to a separate homeland called Eelam despite having in 2002 agreed in Oslo to explore a federal arrangement.

"Let us pledge ourselves to realise their dream of national liberation whatever the obstacles we encounter," he said. "The thirst of Tigers is Tamil Eelam - the motherland." Analysts saw Prabhakaran's latest speech as a move that could push the island closer back to war. -AFP

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