Tamil rebels reject immediate talks

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, AP

Tamil Tiger rebels Sunday rejected the government’s call for immediate peace talks, saying that negotiations could not take place in the midst of war.

In a statement posted on their Web site, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam also refused a government proposal that negotiations take place within a limited time frame, based on what the rebels called a “preconceived permanent solution” offered by the government.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s government has proposed constitutional reforms which grant greater autonomy to the regions, including two areas where Tamils are the majority. The government says this would be done through negotiations.

“These conditions are unacceptable to the LTTE,” the statement said. The rebel group is headquartered in the northern Vanni jungles.

There was no immediate response from the government.

The militants are fighting for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east for Sri Lanka’s 3.2 million minority Tamils. More than 63,000 people have been killed since 1983.

LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in November agreed to peace talks with the government to end the 17 year civil war, but proposed that the war should first be scaled down.

Last week, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar said that de-escalation can only be considered after talks progress “toward a definite stage in resolving the conflict.”

The LTTE retorted: “The history of our armed conflict has demonstrated the fact that peace talks without a stable cease-fire do not succeed.” The government is wary of calling a cease-fire because a similar initiative in 1995 ended when the rebels refused to honor the truce.

The LTTE also asked the international community to persuade the government to “abandon its hard-line militaristic approach” in favor of a negotiated political settlement.

The call came as Kumaratunga prepared to meet officials from donor nations in Paris on Monday to obtain aid for the year 2001, based on the government’s overall performance the previous year.

On Saturday, the government launched a new military offensive in the northern Jaffna Peninsula to capture more rebel-held territory, leaving 38 dead and 66 wounded on both sides.