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New Sri Lanka Government Proposals Attempt to Revive Stalled Peace Talks - 2003-07-17


In Sri Lanka, the government has made fresh proposals to Tamil Tiger rebels to revive the stalled peace process in the country.

The government's new proposals focus on setting up a provisional administration under the control of Tamil rebels in the north and east of the country.

The proposals are being delivered to the rebels by Norwegian mediators, who have facilitated the peace process.

The guerrillas say they will resume peace talks only if they are given greater political and financial authority in Tamil-dominated areas. But they have turned down earlier offers by the government to share power, saying those offers fell short of their expectations.

Rohan Edresinghe is a senior political analyst at Colombo's independent Center for Policy Alternatives. He says the guerrillas should enter discussions with the government, even if they are not satisfied by the new proposals.

"One only hopes that these proposals will not be rejected again, … and that they actually come back to talk about it," he said. " And, I think the government of Sri Lanka is very concerned that these proposals go as discussion points, rather than as final proposals. And, let us hope some dialogue and discussion on the interim administration will commence soon. "

Government negotiator GL Peiris says he does not expect a quick response from the LTTE, as the rebel group is also known, to the latest offer, but hopes it will provide the basis for reopening direct talks.

Peace talks began last year, but broke off in April, after the rebels complained that the government was not doing enough to rebuild Tamil-dominated areas ravaged by war.

But the cease-fire signed last year has mostly held, with sporadic clashes. And, ordinary Sri Lankans have welcomed the return of peace after two decades of conflict that cost the country 65,000 lives and shattered its economy.

Mr. Edresinghe agrees that most people are anxious to see the peace process get back on track.

"Even though the gap between the LTTE and the government seems to be quite big, and there is a little bit of concern as to whether that deadlock can be broken,but the fact that there is a deep yearning for peace across all communities helps us to retain a little bit of hope," he said.

Meanwhile, the World Bank has increased its aid to Sri Lanka by $200 million, raising the total assistance to $1 billion. The new package was announced after bank officials expressed hopes that the peace process will resume. Tamil rebels began their struggle for a separate homeland for the minority Tamil community in 1983, but in talks held last year they agreed to settle for political autonomy in the Tamil-dominated north and east.