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Sri Lanka's Tamil Rebels Turn Down Offer For Talks - 2003-06-04

Sri Lanka's Tamil rebels have rejected an offer to meet the government to break the impasse in the peace process.

In a letter to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam said they will resume negotiations only if the government grants them some political authority in Tamil-majority areas.

The rebels were responding to the prime minister's recent request for a meeting to consider ways to restart peace talks that stalled in April.

Last week the rebels rejected the government's offer to give them greater financial power in Tamil-dominated areas, instead of the interim administration they are demanding.

The government then asked to meet the rebels to discuss a compromise. But the Tamil rebels have reiterated they will be satisfied with nothing less than an interim administrative structure in the north and east, from where they have waged their two decade long struggle for an independent homeland for the island's Tamil minority community.

A senior political analyst, Rohan Edresinghe at Colombo's Center for Policy Alternatives, said the Tamil rebels' refusal to meet the government is a setback, because dialogue and discussion are the only way to revive the peace process.

"The bottom-line is that the LTTE has actually asked for too much, but perhaps the government has responded with too little. I feel that there is still room for a compromise or an accommodation," Mr. Edresinghe said.

Before the rebels rejected the government bid for a meeting, chief negotiator, G.L. Peiris, said the differences between the two sides "are not insurmountable."

Several representatives of European Union countries have met the rebels to urge them to end their boycott of the talks.

The rebels latest peace talks rejection has virtually ruled out their ability to participate in an international donors conference next week in Japan.

The conference is seen as an important milestone in the peace process that began last year. The rebels walked out of the peace process and the donors meeting in April, saying the government's pace of rebuilding the war-ravaged north and east was too slow. But a ceasefire signed last year is still holding.