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Rebels Warn that Sri Lankan Political Struggle Threatens Cease-fire - 2004-01-19

Tamil rebels are warning that a political struggle in Sri Lanka is threatening a two-year ceasefire that has given the country its longest period of peace in two decades. The rebels are urging international aid donors to ask the government to resume peace talks.

Tamil rebel political wing leader SP Thamilselvan says the power struggle between Sri Lanka's president and prime minister could hurt the country's fragile truce, because the government that should move peace forward is divided.

He spoke at a meeting of representatives of international aid agencies and donor countries in the rebel-controlled town of Killinochi. The rebel leader urged donors to exert pressure on Sri Lanka's government to end its power struggle so that the peace process and negotiations can restart.

The head of the National Peace Council in Colombo, Jehan Perera, said there are no immediate fears about the ceasefire because both the rebels and the government want it to continue. But there are fears that the continuing political impasse is hurting the peace process. "We are very concerned that there is no progress on the peace process, and as a result the economic peace dividends that we were expecting are not coming, are not materializing, and the momentum is dying down," he said.

The two-year ceasefire between the government and the rebels has given the island its longest period of peace in two decades.

Aid donors were meeting with rebels to talk about funds for rebuilding the war-torn north and east. International donors have promised $4.5 billion in aid for reconstruction, but have linked the money to progress in ending the 20-year civil war.

Sri Lanka's political crisis erupted in November when President Chandrika Kumaratunga took control of three ministries, including defense, after accusing the prime minister of making too many concessions to the rebels.

The crisis prompted Norwegian mediators to put the peace process on hold until the political standoff is resolved.

The rebels have since said they remain committed to finding a peaceful solution to the two-decade long ethnic conflict in the country. But they warned they will resume their separatist struggle if Sri Lanka's political leaders do not start talking to them again about their demands for more autonomy in Tamil-controlled areas.