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Tamil Rebels in Norway on Peace Mission - 2004-01-28

A Tamil rebel delegation is visiting Norway and other European countries to discuss the deadlocked peace process in Sri Lanka. The rebels also are seeking humanitarian aid for the war-ravaged north and east.

Tamil Tiger rebels say a four-member team will talk to Norwegian officials about how a political power struggle in Colombo is undermining efforts to resolve the ethnic conflict in the country.

The rebels also will visit Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy and the Netherlands. These countries, along with others, have promised Sri Lanka aid for reconstruction but have linked it to progress in peace negotiations between the rebels and the government.

The peace process has stagnated due to a power struggle between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The political rivals have deep differences on how to handle peace talks, and as a result, the dialogue has been on hold since last November.

The rebels say they also want to explain to European governments that the humanitarian needs of people in the Tamil-dominated north and east require urgent attention.

Jehan Perera from the National Peace Council says the rebels want aid to be disbursed for rehabilitation work in areas under their control. "Now they are able to make the argument that through no fault of their own, the Tamil people living in the northeast are being deprived of donor assistance to build their lives," he said.

International donors, who met recently in Colombo, are also anxious to bolster the peace efforts. Mr. Perera says the international community is searching for ways to keep the process on track.

"What the international community that met has said [is] the peace process is more than the peace talks," he added. "While the peace talks have stalled, peace process means also rehabilitation, bringing back normalcy to the lives of people, starting economic projects. And therefore the donors say now maybe they could contribute in that aspect of the peace process."

The Tamil Tigers say they want to discuss in Europe how aid could be channeled to areas under rebel control. The rebels are outlawed by several countries including the United States, Britain and India, making it virtually impossible for donors to give them direct assistance.

The Tamils have warned that the continuing political impasse in Colombo could lead to a resumption of war, especially if living conditions do not improve in war-torn areas.

The rebels waged a two-decade long war for a separate homeland in the north and east before a ceasefire was signed two years ago. The rebels agreed to negotiate for autonomy before the talks stalled.