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Sri Lanka to talk Constitution change

india Updated: Jul 10, 2006 17:43 IST
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Sri Lanka said on Monday it was aiming to push through constitutional reform to bring an end to two decades of civil war, but analysts said it would probably not be enough to bring Tamil Tiger rebels to talks.

More than 700 people have died so far this year, some 280 in June alone, raising fears a 2002 ceasefire could collapse, restarting two decades of civil war with Tamil Tiger rebels who want a separate ethnic Tamil homeland in the north and east.

Both sides say they want peace but diplomats say that, so far, neither has been willing to make the necessary compromises.

The government will hold on Tuesday the first of a string of meetings aimed at discussing constitutional reform. "It is the launch of a process, "government peace secretariat head Palitha Kohona said.

"Constitutional reform is an essential part of our approach to resolving the conflict. We don't have a time limit but we need it sooner rather than later."

Sri Lanka's current non-federal Constitution gives little power to the northern and eastern provinces where minority Tamils and Muslims live.

Some believe the government may be moving towards a more federal constitution such as neighbouring India's.

The meeting will bring together southern majority Sinhalese, Muslim and anti-Tiger Tamil parties as well as a 15-person committee of experts, including four Tamils, Kohona said.

Some analysts say the committee is too hardline to be credible. President Mahinda Rajapaksa's manifesto last year pledged his support for a unitary state and his hardline Buddhist and Marxist allies oppose any concessions.

Neither the Tigers nor their political proxies will be involved in the meeting, although the government says they were invited.

When they first emerged in the 1970s, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) wanted a separate state.

Now they say they might settle for regional autonomy but suggest that they want full independence at least discussed and not ruled out.

"Having these options on the table will increase the confidence of the Tamils in the fairness of the current peace process," wrote lawyer Viswanathan Rudrakumaran in a report published on a pro-rebel website. "The best way to avoid partition is not to resist it."

In Tiger territory itself, most people say they believe the rebels are fighting for a separate state. Some diplomats worry the rebels believe open battle offers better chances than peace.

Violence has fallen since the beginning of July. Some hope that means the two sides have decided that neither can afford war, but others fear the Tigers are preparing a new, larger attack.

They fear the Tigers will reject the new meeting.

"We still hope the LTTE will come," said Kohona. "But their usual practice is to wait for a proposal and then reject it for some spurious reason."

Some officials say that is not important -- it is enough if ordinary Tamils know the government is on their side and so become willing to switch their support from the LTTE.

"I don't know if that will work," said Rohan Edrisinha, constitutional law lecturer at the University of Colombo. "The Tamil people have a love-hate relationship with the LTTE but they want to see them involved because they see that as the best chance of a peaceful solution.

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