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Sri Lanka Rebels Label New Political Alliance 'Anti-Peace' - 2004-01-21

Sri Lanka's Tamil rebels have warned that a newly-formed political alliance, including the country's president, could lead the country back into war. The alliance says it plans to review Norway's role as peace mediator between the government and the rebels.

Tamil Rebel leader Anton Balasingham calls the political alliance formed between President Chandrika Kumaratunga's Sri Lankan Freedom party and a hard-line Marxist group an "anti-peace pact."

In comments on a pro-rebel computer web site, Mr. Balasingham accused the new alliance of taking "confused" positions on a serious national issue, and said this could create conditions for a resumption of the country's two-decade-long civil war.

Earlier, the alliance told reporters in Colombo that it was dissatisfied with Norway's role in mediating an end to the conflict, which pits the majority Sinhalese against the minority Tamils. The alliance said it does not want a return to war, and supports continued negotiations with the rebels. But an aide to President Kumaratunga says the "excessive internationalization" of the conflict is endangering the country's sovereignty.

Norway has played a leading role in the peace process between the rebels and the government. It mediated a truce between the two sides two years ago, and has helped facilitate six rounds of talks between them since.

But the Norwegians put peace talks on hold last November, after a political dispute between President Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe left doubts about who in the government was managing the peace process.

The crisis was triggered by the president's takeover of three ministries from the prime minister's government. The president and prime minister are of different parties, and in Sri Lanka they are elected separately.

The Norwegians said the peace process could only continue once it was clear who is in charge. But they have continued to supervise the fragile ceasefire.

Despite the alliance's doubts about Norway's role, independent political analysts say there is strong support in Sri Lanka for outside mediation in the conflict.

"There has been a general consensus that we need third-party facilitation for the peace process," said one analyst, the Director of the Center for Policy Alternatives in Colombo, Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu. "There is so much mistrust and suspicion and so much confidence that has to be built up in between the two sides ... that third-party facilitation is necessary."

The rebels say the political bickering in Colombo is undermining the truce, and have asked the international community to put pressure on the government to resume negotiations.

The formation of the new alliance on Tuesday has led to speculation that President Kuamratunga may call early elections to resolve the political crisis.