Sri Lanka rivals stick to ceasefire

Sri Lanka’s government and Tamil Tiger rebels have renewed a commitment to a four-year ceasefire on Thursday and agreed to meet again in an effort to ensure the country did not return to civil war.

The two sides agreed to meet again next month

After two days of talks, their first meeting since 2003, the two sides said they would return to Geneva on April 19-21 to discuss securing a more lasting peace.

“Both sides committed to respecting and upholding the ceasefire agreement and are committed to taking all necessary means to ensure that there will be no intimidation (and) acts of violence,” said a statement issued after the talks.

Norwegian Development Minister Erik Solheim, who mediated in the talks, said what he called the clear commitment to put a stop to increasing violence was the most important result to
emerge from the sessions held at a chateau outside Geneva.

“The discussions have been hard, tough and realistic,” he told reporters. “Confidence has been built over the two days.”

Sri Lanka’s Tamil-dominated north and east has been largely calm since January 25 when the two sides agreed to meet, but if the talks had collapsed many feared the ceasefire would fail and the island would be plunged back into all-out war.

More than 64,000 people were killed in two decades of fighting until the 2002 truce.

Underlining tensions, the rebels accused Sri Lanka’s army of firing on them earlier on Thursday. The army denied the charge.

Fagile truce

Both sides say the other has violated the fragile truce.

The army said they suspected the Tigers of killing a Muslim man on Wednesday in the east, where violence has worsened relations between Tamil and Muslim communities.

On arrival in Geneva, the two sides differed on what needed to be done.

The government wanted to strengthen conditions of the ceasefire, but the rebels said Colombo must crack down on paramilitary groups, particularly one led by renegade Tamil rebel leader Colonel Karuna.

A Karuna aide said on Wednesday the group, which the Tigers say operates with impunity from government-held territory, had killed a Tiger fighter. The aide said the Tigers had fired in

The government delegation leader, Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, told the Geneva meeting the ceasefire needed revamping because the Tigers were using it to re-arm.

The Tigers want a separate homeland for minority Tamils in north and east Sri Lanka, where they run a de facto state.

They say four years of peace have bought them little, and threaten to resume their armed struggle unless given wide autonomy.

President Mahinda Rajapakse has ruled out a separate Tamil homeland – a stance the rebels branded as childish.

But, in what was seen as a conciliatory gesture, he has vowed to bring armed groups under control.

Source: Reuters