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Peace talks in danger, say Tamil Tigers

Ahead of the second round of talks in Geneva, the LTTE has said it would review its decision to attend unless it sees disarmament.

india Updated: Mar 14, 2006 11:18 IST

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers have said a second round of talks to avert a slide back to civil war is in grave danger unless the government makes good on a pledge to disarm groups they say the army is helping attack them.

Chief rebel negotiator Anton Balasingham, who is due to spearhead the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) delegation at talks in Geneva from April 19-21, said the group would review its decision to attend unless it sees disarmament.

In particular, the Tigers want the military to rein in a breakaway former top rebel commander named Karuna, who split with the Tigers in 2004 and has admitted responsibility for attacks on the mainstream group in the island's east.

"The Geneva talks will face grave danger if the Sri Lanka government refuses to disarm Tamil paramilitary organisations and continues allowing them to launch offensive military operations," Balasingham told pro-rebel website Tamilnet in comments posted late on Monday.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa's envoys agreed at a first round of talks in Geneva in February to ensure no groups other than the state security forces carry arms in government territory.

But military officials say they have had no new orders to actively hunt the groups down.

"The Rajapaksa administration is turning a blind eye when Tamil paramilitaries -- the Karuna group -- launch attacks on our sentry posts with the active involvement of the Sri Lankan armed forces," Balasingham added.

Karuna, who lives in hiding and whose forces are estimated to number a few hundred men at most, refuses to disarm unless the Tigers do too and has threatened to attack the mainstream group if provoked.

Diplomats and analysts say the latest rounds of high-level talks, the first since 2003, are vital to prevent a repeat of attacks in December and January.

The violence threatened to up-end a 2002 ceasefire and plunge the island back into a two-decade war that has already killed more than 64,000 people.

"It is very important that both parties stick to what they said in Geneva," said one European diplomat. "It is important they both now ... Do as much as possible to create a favourable ambience."

Any good will mustered between the foes at the February talks, when both sides pledged to uphold the truce, lasted just a few days before each side started accusing the other of killings and abductions.

However, violence has fallen sharply since late January, enabling minority Tamil residents in the rebel-dominated north to return to their daily lives.

First Published: Mar 14, 2006 11:18 IST