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Sri Lanka Rebels Threaten Return to War - 2004-07-12


In Sri Lanka, Tamil Tiger rebels are threatening to resume a civil war halted by a peace process that began two-and-one-half-years ago. Anjana Pasricha reports on the latest efforts to end the ethnic conflict in the country.

Tamil Tiger political leader E. Kousalyan said on a pro-rebel website: "We are ready to face the war that the Sri Lankan state has decided to thrust on us."

Mr. Kousalyan says the government is supporting a renegade rebel commander and the fact that state radio gave airtime to broadcast an interview with him is proof. The rebels accuse the government of allowing him to wage a covert war against the Tamil Tiger rebels.

The website warning was the toughest by the rebels so far, who have made increasingly angry statements in recent weeks.

The Tigers accuse the Sri Lankan military of trying to weaken the rebel movement by using the rival rebel faction against them. The army and the government deny the charges, saying they are abiding by a cease-fire agreement signed in 2002.

Jehan Perera at Colombo's National Peace Council says the rebels want to tell the government that the cease-fire should not be taken for granted. Mr. Perera outlines the rebels' message.

"If you continue to disregard our interest we are going to retaliate in the best way we can - which is through violence," he said. "You are not listening to us politically, we will now once again use violence against you."

Several Tamil Tiger cadres have been killed in the east recently, and last week, a suicide-bomb attack ripped Colombo, killing four policemen.

Although the ceasefire is still in force, peace talks have been on hold for more than a year. For weeks Norwegian envoys have shuttled between the government and the rebels in a bid to revive talks, but neither side can agree on an agenda to resume discussions.

The ruling party recently won local elections. Analysts say this could strengthen the government's hand and pave the way for it to restart talks with the rebels.

The rebels say they want wide-ranging autonomy for Tamil-dominated areas under their control in the north and the east. The rebels began their armed uprising in 1983, after they complained of discrimination against the minority Tamil community.

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