April 1, 2007 / 10:46 AM / 12 years ago

INTERVIEW-Peace talks dead if S.Lanka shuns truce -rebels

By Simon Gardner

COLOMBO, April 1 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers said on Sunday there is no chance of resuming peace talks if the state refuses to base them on a tattered peace pact.

A 2002 ceasefire agreement (CFA) is dead on the ground — with near daily air raids, land and sea battles and ambushes — but it still holds on paper, and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam insist it must form the basis of any return to talks.

"If the Sri Lankan Government refuses to discuss ... and implement the CFA, the implication is that it has declared a full-scale war," S.P. Thamilselvan, head of the Tigers’ political wing, told Reuters in an email interview.

"It will indicate the adoption of a more intensified war footing by the government. It will lead to a full-scale, brutal war environment and then it will not be possible to avoid great tragedies and massive destruction in this island."

Peace talks between the foes broke down in October 2006.

Sri Lanka’s government this week offered to hold talks with the rebels at any time to halt fighting that has killed around 4,000 people in the past 15 months, but argues the terms of the truce pact has favoured the rebels and enabled them to re-group and re-arm.

"I don’t think we ... intend to continue negotiations on the basis of the CFA," Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona said this week.

"The CFA was intended to serve a particular purpose, which was to bring hostilities to an end. And we know what has happened since.

"Our current approach is that we must negotiate with a view to bringing the entire conflict to an end, not simply to ensure that there is no fighting on the ground," Kohona added.

WAR ESCALATING

The island’s war, which has killed around 68,000 troops, rebels and civilians since it erupted in 1983, is escalating by the day.

Last week, the Tigers unveiled a deadly new capability with their first air strike on an air force base near the capital using a light aircraft. A suicide rebel also attacked an army base, the foes clashed at sea and the military launched a series of air raids.

The international community and nordic truce monitors have repeatedly called in vain for both sides to halt fighting and abide by the terms of the ceasefire pact.

"This CFA is a historical turning point. It brought an end to the violence and human miseries and enabled the development of mutual understanding between the two sides. It made direct talks possible," Thamilselvan said.

"It is not possible now to marginalize this historical context and then hold talks to find a solution to the conflict," he added.

"The environment for direct talks can be created only by implementing 100 percent the CFA that was created with the support of the international community."

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government has gone on the offensive and has vowed to destroy all Tiger military assets.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed and an estimated 155,000-165,000 people have been newly displaced by the fighting in the east and are now living in refugee camps. Extrajudicial killings and abductions blamed on both sides are rife, aid workers and rights groups say.

"The environment for peace talks will be created only when the ongoing violence and human misery are brought to a halt," Thamilselvan said.




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