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Mahinda slights LTTE chief's resolve

The Sri Lankan president said he has not taken seriously Prabhakaran's threat to resume war.

india Updated: Nov 28, 2006 15:24 IST

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Tuesday said he was not taking "seriously" Tamil Tigers chief Velupillai Prabhakaran's threat to resume his armed campaign for an independent Tamil state.

The president also told the CNN-IBN television channel here that he was ready for direct talks with Prabhakaran instead of involving "others" to end an ethnic conflict that has claimed over 65,000 lives and shows no signs of ending.

In his annual Martyrs' Day speech on Monday, Prabhakaran said the 2002 Norway-brokered ceasefire agreement (CFA) was "defunct" and pledged to fight for a free Tamil state to be carved out of Sri Lanka's northeast.

Rajapaksa said he had not yet studied the speech. "I was here and I got it in the morning (Tuesday). But I have not taken it seriously. Because he has always been saying these things.

"He says there is no CFA. For me I have always believed in a negotiated settlement. Because I know LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) and Prabhakaran are different from Tamil people in Sri Lanka, their views are different."

Asked if he saw Prabhakaran's speech as a declaration of war, Rajapaksa said: "He has been talking like this from the start. He has been saying these things even though he came for talks. He always wanted to kill people. He has killed more Tamils than Sinhalese. Just count the number and you will know."

What can Sri Lanka do to convince the LTTE leader to return to the negotiating table, the president was asked.

"I don't know," Rajapakse replied. "I always tell him 'why do you want others to get involved in Sri Lanka?' I can talk to him straight. So let us talk.

"I have said this in public, from election platforms. I have been voted by the Sri Lankan people, and I am ready (for talks)."

At the same time, Rajapaksa, whose four-day visit to India ends Wednesday, referred to the Sinhalese-nationalist groups supporting him that are opposed to any negotiations with the LTTE.

"I am taking a political risk by offering to negotiate with Prabhakaran," the president said.

In his speech Monday evening, Prabhakaran said: "It is now crystal clear that the Sinhala leaders will never put forward a just solution to the Tamil national question.

"Therefore, we are not prepared to place our trust in the impossible and walk along the same old futile path.

The uncompromising stance of Sinhala chauvinism has left us with no other option but an independent state for the people of Tamil Eelam."

Sri Lanka has seen a sharp rise in violence this year leaving some 2,500 people dead and over 200,000 people displaced, almost all of them in the northeast of the island nation.

Rajapaksa is scheduled to meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday.

First Published: Nov 28, 2006 15:13 IST