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Talks struggle to create trust between SL, LTTE

The discussions saw the two sides, having their first contact since 2003, restate well-known positions with little sign of compromise.

india Updated: Feb 23, 2006 14:00 IST
Reuters
Reuters
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Sri Lankan officials and Tamil Tiger rebels were set to resume talks in Switzerland on Thursday aimed at averting a slide back to civil war, but there is little common ground between the two on the main issues.

The discussions on Wednesday saw the two sides, having their first high-level contact since 2003, restate well-known positions with little sign of compromise, diplomats said.

The island's Tamil-dominated north and east has largely been calm since Jan. 25 when the two sides agreed to meet, but if the Geneva talks collapse, many fear the end of a 2002 truce and a return to a civil war which has killed more than 64,000 people.

Diplomats say the two-day talks, at a chateau outside Geneva, would be a success if the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) simply agreed to meet again, and perhaps outlined some confidence-building measures.

The government and LTTE delegations in Switzerland were tight-lipped, but officials back in Sri Lanka were hopeful.

"The government was satisfied about yesterday's discussion with the LTTE. Yesterday's discussion was good and we hope the same results will come out today," Media Minister Anura Priayadharshana Yapa told reporters after a cabinet briefing.

Both sides accuse each other of violating the fragile truce, with some 200 people killed in December and January.

The army said they suspected the Tigers of killing a Muslim man in the island's east late on Wednesday, where recent violence has worsened relations between Tamil and Muslim communities.

The two sides differ on what needs to be done. The government wants to strengthen conditions of the ceasefire, but the rebels say Colombo must crack down on paramilitary groups, particularly one led by renegade Tamil rebel leader Colonel Karuna.

"The armed violence of the Tamil paramilitaries is posing a grave threat to peace and stability in Tamil areas and endangering the ceasefire," chief Tiger negotiator Anton Balasingham told the government team and Nordic mediators.

Government delegation leader and Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva countered that the ceasefire was not working and needed revamping because the Tigers were using it to re-arm.

But despite the divergent positions, investors in Sri Lanka took heart on Thursday from the fact that talks had not fallen apart, and the Colombo stock exchange -- which has seen volatile trade in recent months -- was up 0.6 per cent in mid-session trade.

The Tigers want a separate homeland for minority Tamils in north and east Sri Lanka, where they run a de facto state.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has ruled out a separate Tamil homeland -- a stance the rebels branded as childish. But, in what was seen as a conciliatory gesture, he has vowed to bring armed groups under control.

But even as the talks began, the Tigers said an attack on Wednesday -- which killed one of their auxiliaries hours before the talks -- raised doubts about the government's sincerity.

The army denied the incident occurred at all, while the Karuna group said they had been attacked by the Tigers and had returned fire, killing one rebel in self-defence.

Norwegian envoy Erik Solheim, who brokered the meeting, admitted suspicion ran deep. "Confidence can only increase, but it starts at a low level," he told reporters.

The rebels say four years of peace have brought little development, and have repeatedly threatened to resume their armed struggle unless given wide autonomy.

First Published: Feb 23, 2006 14:00 IST