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Sri Lanka Peace Talks Deadlocked Over Renegade Tamil Leader - 2004-07-01


Peace brokers have made no headway in efforts to revive peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels. The main rebel group says talks cannot start, because it suspects the government is supporting a rival faction.

Norwegian envoy Eric Solheim came to Colombo earlier this week to salvage peace talks between the government and the Tamil Tiger rebels. After wrapping up meetings with the rebels and President Chandrika Kumaratunga on Thursday, he reported no progress had been made.

The newest glitch in the peace process has been accusations by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the LTTE, that the Sri Lankan military is harboring a renegade leader, who broke from the main rebel group earlier this year. The LTTE says the renegade leader has staged several attacks against its forces, with the help of Sri Lanka's military.

The LTTE has suspended routine meetings with the military to discuss a cease-fire that has been in place for more than two years. The group's leaders have warned Mr. Solheim that the military's actions could jeopardize the truce.

But President Kumaratunga told the Norwegian envoy on Thursday the rebel accusations were not true, and the army is abiding by the cease-fire. Sri Lanka's new army commander, Shantha Kottegoda, also denied the military supports the breakaway faction.

Last week, the government said elements within the military supported the breakaway Tamil faction, but without its knowledge.

Rohan Edresinghe, a political analyst at Colombo's Center for Policy Alternatives, says the LTTE fears the government is trying to weaken it with the help of the renegade leader, known as Karuna.

"I think there is a growing perception on the part of the LTTE that the government is continuing to help some of these dissident groups, and using Karuna as a pretext for actually trying to weaken the LTTE in the east," he said. "Whether that is true or false is really not relevant, it's really that is the LTTE's perception, and that has created a huge amount of distrust."

The rebels say the army can only restore trust by handing over the renegade leader.

Despite the rebels' concerns, President Kumaratunga has asked Norway to continue trying to restart negotiations.

Norwegian mediators brought the Tamils and the government to the negotiating table in 2002. Since then, the rebels have agreed to abandon a 20-year struggle for a separate homeland for the minority Tamil community and agreed to accept autonomy. But talks on the extent and scope of self-rule have not taken off.

A few months ago, a new government took office in Sri Lanka, supported by hard-line parties, which further complicates efforts to return to the negotiating table.

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