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Don't recognise renegade leader, warn Tiger rebel

Tamil Tiger rebels warned the govt not to recognise a renegade leader, saying it would cause damage to the peace process.

india Updated: Mar 18, 2004 15:12 IST

Tamil Tiger rebels warned the government not to recognize or negotiate with a renegade guerrilla leader, saying it would cause "irreparable damage" to Sri Lanka's fragile peace process.

Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, an eastern-based rebel leader better known as Karuna, broke away from the main Tamil Tiger army on March 3, taking nearly half of the groups' fighters with him. Anton Balasingham, the Tigers' chief negotiator, accused the breakaway leader of having established "clandestine contacts" with the government and army "to gain recognition and concessions." "We should let it be known to his contacts that they will cause irreparable damage to the peace process if they exploit Karuna's dissent," Balasingham said in an interview with the London-based Tamil Guardian newspaper. He did not elaborate.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamileelam expelled Muralitharan three days after he announced his revolt and branded him a traitor. The Tigers began fighting for a separate homeland for minority ethnic Tamils in the north and east in 1983, claiming discrimination from the Sinhalese majority.

A cease-fire in February 2002 between the government and the Tigers' leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, halted the fighting, which had killed nearly 65,000 people, and raised hopes for a permanent peace.

But the rebel split raises the prospect of a Tamil-versus-Tamil conflict on top of a continuing power struggle within Sri Lanka's government. The president, accusing the prime minister of being too soft on the rebels, has dismissed his government and called April 2 parliamentary elections.

The division in rebel ranks also complicates Norwegian-brokered peace efforts. So far negotiations have been between the government and the Tigers. Muralitharan, who controls some 6,000 fighters and territory in the east, could now emerge as a third player. But Balasingham dismissed the concerns and said peace talks can resume after an April 2 vote.

"Karuna's dissent would not seriously undermine the peace process or the Tamil national struggle," he said. "A rebellious individual with a lost cause who has fallen from grace of the mainstream national movement cannot stand as an obstacle to the inexorable historical march of a people's struggle." Balasingham also played down fears of fresh fighting. "He (Prabhakaran) has decided to avoid a confrontationist approach. We have our strategy to overcome the situation without armed violence and bloodshed," said Balasingham,a close confidant of the reclusive leader.

"Our leadership is not agitated or anxious over the issue," he added. "Mr. Prabhakaran is maintaining a calm, cool and composed attitude."

The top theoretician also denied claims by Muralitharan that the Tigers were preparing for war with Sri Lankan government forces. "I can assure you that the LTT leadership is not making any preparations for war. We are seriously and sincerely committed to peace and peaceful means of resolving the ethnic conflict."

First Published: Mar 18, 2004 14:59 IST