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Tamil Tigers Suspend Sri Lanka Peace Talks - 2003-04-21

In Sri Lanka, Tamil Tigers say they are suspending peace talks with the government. It is a serious setback to the peace process that began more than a year ago to end the two decade-long civil conflict in the island nation.

The Tamil Tigers say they are suspending their participation in peace talks for the time being because of what they call "deep displeasure" over certain critical issues. However the rebels say they remain committed to a negotiated settlement.

The unexpected announcement was made in a letter to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The Tigers said they were unhappy at being excluded from a recent meeting held in the United States to help raise money to rebuild Tamil-dominated areas.

The rebels were not invited to Washington, because they are labeled as a terrorist organization by the United States. The Tigers say another venue should have been selected for the meeting.

The rebels also expressed anger at the government's failure to fully implement a Norwegian-brokered truce. They charged that, although the guns had fallen silent, living conditions had not improved for Tamils, and normalcy had not returned to the northern Jaffna peninsula. The rebels blamed this on a "massive military occupation of Tamil towns and cities by government troops."

The rebels signed a truce with the government early last year. Peace talks began in September - six rounds have been held so far.

The next round was to be held in Thailand next week. The rebels have not directly referred to this meeting, but say they will not participate in a donors meeting that was due to be held in Japan in June.

The Tigers began their struggle for a separate homeland for the Tamil community in 1983. In talks held so far, the rebels had agreed to accept political autonomy for the island's north and east.

The peace negotiations were proceeding at a slow pace, but were seen as Sri Lanka's best chance to end the separatist war that has displaced a million people, and devastated the island's economy.