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Sri Lanka Rebels Reject Government Peace Proposal - 2003-05-30

In Sri Lanka, Tamil Tiger rebels have rejected a government proposal aimed at reviving the island's deadlocked peace process.

In a four-page letter, the Tamil Tigers called the government's recent offer to give the rebels greater financial control over aid work in Tamil-dominated areas "unacceptable."

Last week, the rebels demanded an interim administration in the north and east, in exchange for ending their boycott of the peace talks. The government said the country's constitution did not allow this. Instead, it offered to set up a development agency that would give the rebels a greater role in handling rehabilitation work in war-shattered areas.

But the Tamil guerrillas say the government's proposal does not go far enough to address their concerns, and say their role has been left "deliberately ambiguous."

The rebels pulled out of peace talks last month, expressing dissatisfaction with what they called the slow pace of progress in rebuilding Tamil-majority areas.

In their latest letter, the rebels reiterated that they remain committed to a negotiated settlement, but warned that "people are losing confidence in us, as we are involved in a futile exercise that produces no results."

The head of Colombo's Center for Policy Alternatives, Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, says the rebels' rejection of the government proposal has further undermined efforts to salvage the peace process in the island nation. "There is concern, there is a certain amount of doubt and anxiety, that the process is not back on the track in any great hurry," he said. "So, I would say there is a cumulative erosion of confidence, with regard to the [peace] process."

On Thursday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe warned that if both sides did not re-start negotiations, the country risked being consigned to the "backwaters of history for another 30 or 40 years." In his first public comments since the peace process stalled, he said "what is being demanded is not what can be easily delivered."

In recent weeks, Norwegian and Japanese mediators have tried to persuade the rebels to re-start negotiations and attend an international donors conference in Japan, scheduled for next month. The conference aims to raise billions of dollars for development work in Sri Lanka. The rebels' latest communication does not refer to the conference, but there are fears that their failure to attend could stall efforts to raise the money.

The two sides signed a cease-fire last February, and held six rounds of peace talks in which the rebels agreed to give up their demand for a separate homeland for the island's Tamil minority. The talks had raised hopes of ending the two-decade-long ethnic conflict, which has killed more than 60,000 people.