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Tamil Leader Threatens Reviving Demands for Separate Homeland - 2003-11-27

In Sri Lanka, rebel leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran has threatened to revive demands for a separate Tamil homeland, if the government continues to deny self-governing rights to the Tamil people. But he says he remains committed to a peaceful resolution of the island's ethnic conflict.

Tamil Tiger leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran says he is ready to negotiate with the government. But he warns that if Tamils continue to face what he calls "oppression," the rebels will have no alternative but to secede and form a separate Tamil state.

The peace process in the country remains stalled due to a bitter power struggle between the president and the prime minister.

Mr. Prabhakaran was addressing Tamils in a northern rebel stronghold on Heroes Day, an occasion when rebels pay homage to comrades who have been killed in the country's civil war.

Mr. Prabhakaran's translated comments said the political deadlock between the president and the prime minister has severely endangered the peace process.

"The power struggle between the two leaders has resulted in the destabilization of the state, and the peace process has come to a standstill," he said.

He urged the country's leaders not to create conditions that would drive Tamils to again seek the option of an independent state.

The guerrillas have waged a two-decade struggle for a separate Tamil homeland in the north and the east, but agreed to settle for autonomy after peace talks began last year.

They have given the government a plan seeking wide-ranging self-governing powers in areas they control. But negotiations to discuss their proposals were suspended earlier this month, after President Chandrika Kumaratunga took over the defense, interior, and information ministries, accusing the prime minister of giving too much ground to the rebels.

The political crisis prompted Norwegian mediators to suspend their involvement in the peace process.

Mr. Prabhakaran's met Wednesday with European Union External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten. Mr. Patten says he warned the guerrilla leader that a return to violence will bring the condemnation and hostility of the international community.

The civil war in Sri Lanka erupted in 1983, after the minority Tamil community complained of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese population. More than 60,000 people were killed in the conflict, but a 21-month cease-fire has brought the country its longest spell of peace.