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Sri Lanka's PM Under Fire for Concessions to Tamil Rebels - 2003-05-23

Sri Lanka's main opposition party says it opposes allowing the Tamil Tiger rebels to set up an interim administration. Debate over how much power the rebels should have could further delay peace talks.

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga issued a blunt warning Friday to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. A spokesman for her People's Alliance Party says that if the prime minister concedes too much to Tamil Tiger rebels, the government will be in peril. The Tigers walked out of peace talks in April, complaining the government was not doing enough to rebuild areas ravaged by nearly 20 years of civil war.

The dispute between the parties is over the rebel's demand for an interim administration in northeastern Sri Lanka. Rebel negotiators say an interim administration will give them the legal status they need to accept international humanitarian aid.

President Kumaratunga says allowing an interim administration would give the Tigers premature legitimacy and take away an incentive to renounce violence and decommission weapons.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has neither accepted nor refused the Tamil Tiger proposal.

The issue may be difficult for the two parties to resolve because Mr. Wickremesinghe's governing party, the United National Front, holds a slim majority in parliament and is forced to share power with Mrs. Kumaratunga. As prime minister, Mr. Wickremesinghe controls foreign policy and peace negotiations. But Mrs. Kumaratunga has the power to fire the government and call snap elections.

The Tamil Tigers already have quite a lot of regional autonomy in the northeast, including their own police, judicial system and tax collection.

Tamil negotiators say they remain committed to a peaceful solution, and have no intention of re-starting the civil war that has killed more than 60,000 people.

But unless the interim administration issue is resolved, the Tamil Tigers say they will not attend peace talks, and will stay away from an international donors' conference next month.