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Tamil Tiger Rebels Reject Government Offer to Restart Peace Talks - 2003-06-20

Sri Lanka's shaky peace agreement has taken another blow with Tamil Tiger rebels rejecting the latest government offer to restart talks. The rebels now want a radical overhaul of the 16-month peace process.

Tamil Tiger rebels Friday turned down the government's offer to create an interim administration for Tamil-controlled regions in the north and east, calling the proposal "vague."

Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe made the offer on national television Thursday, a concession to the rebel's demand for an interim administration.

It was the third attempt by the government in recent weeks to woo the rebels back to the negotiating table since the Tamil Tigers suspended the talks two months ago.

But the rebels say the government has not spelled out how they would participate in the proposed interim administration. They now say they want to discuss a "new, redefined agenda" for the talks with Norwegian mediators.

A leading political analyst at Colombo's National Peace Council, Jehan Perera, points out that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or the LTTE are not being clear in their demands and may be asking for more than is possible.

"They (rebels) are constantly asking the government to come forward with proposals but the LTTE is not actually spelling out what they want other than they want an administrative structure," he said. "The government is actually having a problem in delivering this mechanism because it seems it would require the consent of the main opposition party in order to come up with any constitutionally viable solution."

If the government needs to amend the constitution it is bound to face stiff resistance from President Chandrika Kumaratunga's main opposition party, which opposes making any more concessions to the rebels.

Some analysts criticize the rebels for repeatedly rejecting the government's bid for a compromise. But Mr. Perera of the National Peace Council feels that the prospects for peace are still bright.

"People don't feel that we are slipping back into a situation into war, and there is a sense among the people that this government has no intention of going back to war, and also there is a sense that the LTTE does not want to war at this time," he said.

Sri Lanka's civil war erupted in 1973 and claimed more than 60,000 lives until a cease-fire was signed last year. The rebels have given up on demands for a separate Tamil homeland and say they will settle for political autonomy in the north and the east.