Lankan president seeks talks with Tigers
* Sri Lanka to deploy security forces to curb election violence
COLOMBO: Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga on Thursday announced she was ready to open talks with Tamil Tiger rebels and revive a stalled peace bid if her party was returned to power in upcoming elections.
Kumaratunga told the first election campaign rally of her newly formed Freedom Alliance that she wanted a mandate to enter into talks with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who once tried to assassinate her. “Please give us a mandate to continue the peace talks with the LTTE,” Kumaratunga told a rally at Anuradhapura, 206 kilometres (128 miles) north of here.
She also heaped praise on the Tiger guerrillas saying they had acted with “responsibility” despite attempts by the party of her main political rival Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to provoke the rebels into violence. “The LTTE has shown discipline in maintaining the ceasefire,” Kumaratunga was quoted as saying by her spokesman. “The prime minister’s party tried to persuade the LTTE to... set off bombs, but they did not agree.”
It was Kumaratunga who formally invited Norway in January 2000 to help bring Tiger rebels to the peace negotiating table, but her process was put on hold in April 2001 after intense fighting. Kumaratunga went public on moves to bring the Tigers to the negotiating table a few days after surviving a suicide bomb attack blamed on the Tigers. She lost her right eye in the attack in December 1999.
The peace process with the Tigers was revived by her rival, Ranil Wickremesinghe, after he won parliamentary elections in December 2001. The president and the prime minister who are from rival parties and elected separately have been at logger heads over the handling of the Norwegian-led peace effort. Kumaratunga has also been critical of Norway and described the Oslo-brokered truce as an “invalid document,’ but pledged to uphold it after taking the defence and interior portfolios from the premier’s control in November.
Thereafter, peace broker Norway suspended its role here and maintained that there was no clarity as to who was really in charge in Colombo. The Tigers had announced they were ready to end a boycott of talks, in force since April last year, after unveiling their first ever blueprint for peace on November 1, but Kumaratunga’s actions against the government a few days later indefinitely delayed talks.
The situation was complicated with Kumaratunga on February 7 dissolving parliament and calling snap elections for April 2, nearly four years ahead of schedule.
Tiger rebels have described the early elections as a “grave setback” to peace efforts and warned that Kumaratunga’s alliance with a Marxist party, the JVP, or People’s Liberation Front, could lead the country back to war. —AFP