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Sri Lankan Minister: Tsunami Delays Prospects for Renewed Peace Talks

  • Patricia Nunan

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar says, the time is not right to resume long-stalled peace talks. But he stresses that the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, must still cooperate.

"It is clearly understood by the LTTE and the government, both, that this is not the time to start reviving the peace talks," he said. "This is the time to work together on the ground to put into effect quickly the rehabilitation and reconstruction programs that are so badly needed."

Sri Lanka was one of the nations hardest hit by the December 26 tsunami. The huge waves killed more than 30,000 people, many of them in northern and eastern areas controlled by the Tamil Tigers.

The guerrilla force waged a violent 20-year struggle for independence, or increased autonomy for Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil minority.

Norway brokered a cease-fire between the Tamils and the government three years ago. The truce has largely held, but there have been sporadic killings that threaten to trigger renewed fighting.

A Norwegian peace envoy is now in Sri Lanka to help the government and the rebels establish a joint body to help oversee the disbursement of millions-of-dollars in international assistance for tsunami survivors.

But it now seems that the separatists need the government more than the government needs them.

Mr. Kadirgamar points out that many international donors will not give funds to the Tamil Tigers, since the group has been named a terrorist organization by the United States and other countries.

"The LTTE realizes that absolutely fully well, that they can't do any serious work of a major scale by themselves. There isn't the money for it. They haven't got the personnel, they haven't got the expertise, and so on," he explained. "So, there has to be a joint endeavor, even in areas that are very tightly in their control. There simply has to be collaboration with the government."

Mr. Kadirgamar made his comments while on a visit to New Delhi to thank the Indian government for the assistance it has provided to tsunami victims in Sri Lanka.