Lanka president to push peace talks

Sri Lanka's newly elected president will immediately try to resurrect faltering peace talks with the country's Tamil Tiger rebels, the government has said.

    Rajapakse will invite political leaders for talks

    The government also hinted on Thursday at some flexibility on power-sharing with the separatists - an apparent reversal of his campaign stance.

    President Mahinda Rajapakse, who won last week's election, "will immediately invite political leaders and parties representing Parliament to come to a certain consensus" on
    ways to revive the peace process, cabinet spokesman Nimal Siripala de Silva said on Thursday.
     
    In response to a question from reporters, de Silva said the government wanted to "see what the consensus is after consultations".
     
    "We don't want to be restricted to words," he added, in reference to Rajapakse's previous pledge to keep Sri Lanka undivided and his rejection of rebel demands for self-rule.

    Cautious manner

    De Silva added: "This process must be done in a cautious manner."
     
    Rajapakse, who narrowly defeated rival Ranil Wickremesinghe, a former prime minister who signed the ceasefire with the rebels, campaigned on a hard line against the separatists and pledged to overhaul a Norwegian-brokered peace process.

    Tamil guerrillas began fighting 
    in 1983 for a separate state

    The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, began fighting in 1983 for a separate state, claiming discrimination of minority Tamils against the Sinhalese majority.

    Nearly 65,000 people were killed before a truce was signed in February 2002.

    Peace talks stalled in April 2003 amid rebel demands for wide autonomy in the Tamil-dominated north and east.

    A recent spike in violence, mainly in the Tamil-dominated northeast, has raised fears of the island slipping back to war.

    De Silva also announced the appointment of John Gooneratne to head the government's peace secretariat.

    Commitment

    Gooneratne starts on 1 December, succeeding Jayantha Dhanapala, who quit the post earlier this month, a week before the presidential poll.

    Dhanapala will be an adviser, de Silva said.
     
    Gooneratne, who has served as ambassador to Iraq and in embassies in Washington DC and Cairo, Egypt, has played a pivotal role in peace negotiations with Tamil rebels since the secretariat was set up in 2002.
     
    "The appointment is a further commitment of the president to further the peace process," de Silva said.

    SOURCE: Unspecified


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