Tamil Tigers offered more powers

In a final attempt to salvage the staggering peace process in Sri Lanka, the government offered the Tamil Tigers rebels new political powers on Monday.

    G L Peiris (L)  with Tami Tigersl 
    chief negotiator Anton

    Although unspecified, the powers promised are seen as an effort to break the impasse in the Norwegian-brokered deal - and put the process back on track.

    Sri Lanka's chief peace negotiator, G L Peiris, said the government was presenting the basic outline of a structure that could be finalised after discussions with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

    "It is necessary that the parties talk to each other to carry the process forward," Peiris told reporters.

    The government is awaiting input from the Tamil Tigers, but has ruled out going to war.

    Details of the latest offer have not been released.

    The LTTE abandoned peace talks in April after accusing the government of failing to deliver on promises made at six previous rounds of negotiations since September.

    The rebels are demanding increased political and administrative power to run affairs in the north-eastern part of the country.

    They earlier rejected an offer of financial authority to rebuild war-ravaged areas.

    The sinking of a Tamil ship over the weekend, and the assassination of two rival Tamil politicians, allegedly by the LTTE, compounded the complexity of the wavering peace process.

    The navy says the sinking was the result of an explosion carried out by the rebels themselves to destroy evidence of arms smuggling.

    But rebels accuse the navy of sinking their vessel in international waters off the island’s north-eastern coast.

    "If any harm were to befall the crew of the LTTE vessel then the sole responsibility for the events lay with the Sri Lanka Navy and this incident would have very grave consequences," the LTTE said in a statement.

    More than 240 Tamil Tigers have
    been killed since fighting began in

    Despite the mounting tensions, Peiris says the country will not revert to war with the rebels.

    "That is one risk that does not exist," Peiris said, discounting fears that the country’s 16 month was ending. "I don't think that  danger exists."

    He added that the LTTE had "categorically and repeatedly" stressed that they would not revert to fighting with government forces.
    According to Peiris, the challenge that both parties currently face was to better use the 4.5 billion dollars pledged by foreign donors at a Tokyo conference last week.

    That can only happen when the peace process is back on track, he said.

    The Sri Lanka government and Tamil Tigers first declared a ceasefire in December 2001, ending almost 19 years of fighting.

    Claiming discrimination by the majority Sinhalese population, Tamil Tigers had been fighting for an independent state in the north and east.

    The Tamil made a major concession as peace talks progressed by abandoning their demand for independence. Instead, they publicly declared that they would settle for regional autonomy.

    The government has also made concessions by agreeing to share power with the Tamil Tigers.


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