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Tamil Tigers Boycott Aid Conference - 2003-09-12

Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka have boycotted an international aid donors meeting. Peace talks that began nearly a year ago between the government and the rebels have come to a standstill in the past six months.

Aid donors met Friday in Colombo to monitor reconstruction programs for the war torn country. The international community in June pledged $4.5 billion for the effort.

The Tamil Tigers did not attend Friday's meeting. They also boycotted a conference in June when the aid was promised.

Japanese envoy Yasushi Akashi is leading the conference in Colombo. He appealed to the rebels to resume peace talks, warning that donor pledges are dependant on progress in the peace process.

The rebels suspended negotiations with the government in April. They demanded an interim administration in the Tamil-dominated north and east of the country, where they have fought for an independent homeland for two decades.

The Tigers say they have not attended the aid meetings because there is no effective structure in place for managing funds.

The rebels are studying a power-sharing offer made by the government. They are expected to make a counter-offer by the end of the month and have linked the future of the peace process to the government's response.

Although peace talks have stalled, there has been a truce between the government and the rebels for the past year and a half.

Jehan Perera is a political analyst with Colombo's National Peace Council. He says the lull in fighting raises hopes that the rebels remain committed to peace, despite the current difficulties. Mr. Perera says the entire country - including the war-shattered north and east - is starting to recover.

"People are rebuilding their homes, shops are coming up, there is trading going on, there is a sense of normalcy and comfort in the whole country," he said. "In a sense we are getting used to the idea of peace, so used to the idea of peace that we are forgetting what the horrors of war were. I would say the peace process is continuing, though the peace talks are stalled."

Most political analysts are hoping the Tamil Tigers will be persuaded to return to the negotiating table.

But several incidents in recent months have raised concerns: The Tigers refused to vacate a rebel camp, which Norwegian monitors considered a violation of the cease-fire. They also have been accused of killing political opponents, and continuing to recruit child fighters.

More than 60,000 people have died since the civil war in Sri Lanka erupted in 1983. The country's economy was shattered, but it has been recovering since the fighting ended.