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Sri Lankan Government Invites Tamil Rebels to Peace Talks


Sri Lanka's newly elected president has invited the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels to peace talks. The offer comes one day after the rebels warned they would intensify their struggle for an independent homeland if the government fails to come up with an acceptable political settlement for the minority Tamil community.

In a speech to diplomats in Colombo, President Mahinda Rajapakse said he was repeating his invitation to the Tamil Tiger rebels for peace talks.

Mr. Rajapakse did not refer directly to rebel leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran's ultimatum to renew the struggle for "self-determination" next year if the government fails to meet the political aspirations of the minority Tamil community.

In an annual address Sunday, Mr. Prabhakaran said this was an "urgent and final appeal." The Tamil Tiger leader said he was willing to wait for the president's next move before taking what he called "decisive action."

Rohan Edresinghe with Colombo's Center for Policy Alternatives says Mr. Prabhakaran has kept the door open for negotiations.

"It seems Mr. Prabhakaran is putting the ball back into Mr. Rajapakse's court and basically telling him to come up with some suggestions as to how to move the peace process forward, and from that point of view and perhaps he is trying to woo international opinion to show that he is being reasonable, whereas Mr. Rajapakse's policies are unreasonable," he said.

The government has issued no formal reaction to the rebel leader's speech, but the president said the government can resume work on reviewing the operation of the 2002 ceasefire deal, while preparing for substantive talks.

Political analysts warn the future of the truce hinges on the president taking concrete steps to revive the faltering peace process.

But some analysts fear the president's hard-line allies may not give him much room for maneuver.

Earlier, Mr. Rajapakse had rejected the main rebel demand for an autonomous Tamil homeland, and called for a review of the ceasefire agreement to ensure it halted "terrorist acts."

The truce has come under mounting pressure since peace talks became deadlocked two years ago, and has looked even more fragile since Mr. Rajapakse won power last week after promising to take a tough line with the rebels.

The two-decade war claimed more than 60,000 lives before the 2002 cease-fire.

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