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Latest Attempt to Restart Sri Lankan Peace Talks Ends in Failure

Efforts by a Japanese diplomat to push the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels to resume peace talks has apparently failed.

A flurry of meetings that Japanese peace envoy Yasushi Akashi held over the past week with top leaders of the government and the Tamil Tiger rebels had raised hopes that he might be able to nudge the two sides back to the negotiating table.

But after meeting Monday with Mr. Akashi, the rebels dashed hopes that the fragile peace process would resume. Rebel leader S.P. Thamilselvan said Mr. Akashi did not bring any "realistic or productive" message from the government.

Mr. Thamilselvan said the rebels would settle for nothing less than self-rule in the north and east - but the "present climate does not facilitate a permanent solution."

Jehan Perera, a political analyst with the National Peace Council in Sri Lanka, says deep suspicion is making it difficult to bridge the distance between the government and the rebels, formally known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or the LTTE.

"The LTTE had told him [Akashi] that they did not believe in the government's sincerity, and that while the President [Chandrika Kuamratunga] was saying things that were very attractive and nice for the international community, that the LTTE did not believe in those words, that they wanted action," said Jehan Perera.

Fighting between the government and the rebels has been halted since a Norwegian-brokered peace agreement two and a half years ago.

But the peace process has been deadlocked since last year over the rebels' insistence that the government accept their proposal for interim self-rule in the Tamil-dominated north and east.

The rebels have recently warned that they may push ahead with plans to carve out a separate state if they are denied wide-ranging autonomy.

The government, which came to power earlier this year, has dismissed the rebel demands as "too sweeping." Mr. Perera says the government is now finding it difficult to change its position.

"The government is not very forthcoming itself about sitting down with the LTTE, and I think that is because it won the last election by bitterly criticizing the former government for being too easy on the LTTE…," he concluded.

Mr. Akashi's visit came after several recent attempts by Norwegian mediators also failed to get peace talks off the ground.

The separatist struggle for a Tamil homeland began in 1983, after complaints of discrimination against the minority Tamil community by the majority Sinhalese. In 2002, the rebels agreed to settle for autonomy.