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Sri Lanka: Tamil Rebels Reject Charges of Truce Violations - 2002-03-12

In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tiger rebels have rejected American allegations they are indulging in activities that could jeopardize a landmark cease-fire. The guerrillas say they are honoring the truce with the government. The indefinite cease-fire was negotiated late last month and has raised hopes for a peace process to end the two-decade separatist conflict in the island nation.

The chief spokesman for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Anton Balasingham, said Tuesday the rebel group is sincerely and seriously committed to a peace process and a negotiated political settlement. He says rebels have been given strict instructions to observe the conditions of the cease-fire. Mr. Balasingham said members guilty of violating the truce will be severely punished.

His comments were made on a Tamil website frequently used by the rebels.

Mr. Balasingham's assurances came after the United States warned the rebels to remain committed to the peace process or risk facing further international isolation.

In a strong statement, the American Embassy in Colombo had said there were credible reports the Tamil Tigers were rearming themselves and had stepped up recruitment efforts, including those aimed at children. It also accused the rebels of continuing to indulge in kidnapping and extortion. The statement said such incidents had decreased; but had not ended.

The cease-fire in Sri Lanka went into effect February 23 and is monitored by a Scandinavian team.

Efforts are underway to organize peace talks between the rebels and the government, their first in seven years. The talks are expected to begin in three months and are seen as the best hope, so far, of negotiating a settlement between the government and the rebels.

But reports of of rebel abuses - especially recruitment of more soldiers - have raised concerns about the group's commitment to the truce. The LTTE continuously denies such accusations.

Political observers have welcomed the strong statement from the U.S. government, hoping it will put international pressure on the rebels to stick with with the peace process.

The Tamil rebel group has been fighting a fierce guerrilla war, since 1983, for an independent homeland for the country's minority Tamil community.