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Lankan Govt, Tigers don't want to talk: Analysts

The worsening cycle of violence in Sri Lanka is a sign that neither side in the brutal ethnic conflict is ready for talks, analysts say.
None | By Amal Jayasinghe (AFP), Colombo
UPDATED ON OCT 17, 2006 02:27 PM IST

The worsening cycle of violence in Sri Lanka, where Tamil Tiger rebels this week launched their bloodiest-ever suicide attack, is a sign that neither side in the brutal ethnic conflict is ready to sit down for talks slated for next week, analysts said on Tuesday.

In the latest carnage, more than 100 people -- most of them sailors -- were killed when Tiger suicide bombers detonated a truck packed with explosives next to a convoy of naval buses near the restive district of Trincomalee.

The government, which last week also suffered a major battlefield defeat in the northern peninsula of Jaffna with the loss of at least 133 soldiers, has hit back with air strikes.

"Both sides are stubborn," said Harry Goonetileke, a retired air force chief and a political advisor to a former president.

"It seems the Tigers want to provoke air attacks. That will be their excuse for not going for talks. The government is playing into their hands," he said, adding that the recent debacles should encourage the government to adopt a more conciliatory attitude.

Former Tamil rebel turned politician, Dharmalingam Sithadthan, argued that neither side was keen on talks partly because they had no political basis to negotiate.

"Even if they go for talks, what they want is to use the international audience to expose the other side as insincere," Sithadthan said. "There is no genuine effort to talk peace. This is a charade."

Sri Lanka's main peace broker Norway is nevertheless trying to keep alive plans for a meeting.

Norway has been working to restore the February 2002 ceasefire and end spiralling violence which has claimed more than 2,300 lives since December.

More than 60,000 people have been killed in the three-decades-old conflict over a Tamil homeland on the Sinhalese-majority island.

Special envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer was due to meet with officials here on Tuesday on the proposed peace talks in Switzerland from October 28 to 29 under an agreement reached last week just before the latest fighting flared.

Japan's top peace envoy Yasushi Akashi has also held talks in Colombo with President Mahinda Rajapakse on resuming peace negotiations and ending an eight-month deadlock in the process.

Diplomats said they feared an escalation of violence ahead of the proposed talks in Switzerland on October 28 and 29, but the scale of bloodshed has stunned them.

"The Norwegians feared the violence could get worse when they started talking to the two parties at the beginning of the month," a diplomat said. "But they would not have bargained for this."

Namal Perera, a defence analyst for the Ravaya newspaper, said both sides in the conflict were merely using the peace process as part of a military strategy.

"They are mouthing 'commitment to talks' only to appease the international community," Perera said.

"This is a time-buying exercise to prepare for more fighting."

Since the current Norwegian-led and internationally-backed peace process officially began in 2000 the parties started talks from September 2002, but direct negotiations broke down in April 2003.

The two sides met in Switzerland in February this year after a spike in violence, but a follow up meeting in Oslo in June was aborted. Now next week's talks also look in doubt.

"There is a strong fear that the situation is getting out of hand," a diplomat said. "At the same time, the feeling is that the climate is not right for talks. The alternative is worse. It could be full-scale war."

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