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International Donors Pressure Sri Lanka to Resume Peace Talks

International donors to Sri Lanka are pressuring the government to resume talks with Tamil Tiger rebels to end two decades of violence and open the way for economic development. VOA's Suzanne Presto reports from New Delhi, one analyst says the government may not be ready to pursue peace.

International donors are meeting in the southern Sri Lankan town of Galle to discuss development assistance to the island nation.

In opening remarks at the forum Monday, World Bank officials cautioned against discussing development plans if the group were not also going to address the conflict between the government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Western powers, including the United States, are urging Sri Lanka's government to commit to a political settlement with the rebels.

But some analysts believe that the government might not heed international prods to resume peace talks.

Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu is the executive director of an independent analysis group in Colombo called the Center for Policy Alternatives.

"Well, I think, having pressure from the United States always has some effect, but, in this particular case, the question arises as to what the United States would do if the government does not rejoin peace talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam," he said.

Saravanamuttu told VOA the government is not likely to pursue a political solution to the conflict, in part because the government does not believe there will be consequences for pursuing a military solution.

"I think the government has calculated that, at the end of the day, this is not a conflict, which rates high on the strategic priorities of the powers-that-be," he said.

In recent weeks, the military has stepped up its campaigns against the Tamil Tigers, driving them out of rebel-held areas in the volatile east. Some analysts in Sri Lanka, including Saravanamuttu, believe the government intends to build upon these military victories to weaken the Tigers into submission.

"I think the prospects with regard to the revitalization of the peace process depend almost entirely on what happens on the battlefield," he said.

Saravanamuttu says he does not think the political field was necessarily altered Sunday when 19 members from the country's main opposition party, the United National Party, crossed-over to the ruling party. President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government has been ruling without a clear majority since late 2005.

But the defection now gives the government a simple majority in parliament, 113 out of 225 seats.

Saravanamuttu says this will not necessarily improve or diminish chances for peace between the government and the rebels.

"To begin with, it is not at all clear as to whether it will have any effect on the peace process, insofar as the United National Party defectors, who have now joined the government, are not in any way associated with a clear position, with regard to the revitalization of the peace process," he said.

Fighting between Tamil separatists and Sri Lanka's government began in 1983, and has claimed more than 67,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands. The rebels say the country's ethnic Tamils have been oppressed by the nation's Sinhalese majority.

The government has rejected rebel demands for an independent homeland in the northeast. Norway mediated a ceasefire in 2002, but the truce broke down completely late last year.

The World Bank suggests that poverty could have been eliminated in Sri Lanka by now, if the war between the rebels and the government were not taking such a toll on the island nation's GDP year after year.

The two-day international donor forum is set to end Tuesday.