OP-EDS

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May 23, 2003

Talks between Tamil rebels, government stall

Truce talks between Tamil rebels and the Sri Lankan government have reached a stalemate despite foreign attempts to break the deadlock. The latest blow came when the rebels passed a deadline last week for accepting an invitation to attend donor talks in Tokyo next month. European governments, particularly Norway, made last ditch attempts to convince the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to attend the Tokyo meeting, but the Tigers were obstinate. Aside from the Sri Lankan government, the Tigers accuse foreign mediators of sidelining LTTE interests in the process while giving in to all of the demands set forth by the Sri Lankan government.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca also made fruitless attempts to woo the Tigers to Tokyo, but she remained firm that the U.S. would not strike them off the State Department's list of terrorist organizations unless they halted terrorist activities in Colombo and other parts of the country.

Many fear that by pulling out of the talks, the Tigers have left the LTTE truce with the government hanging by a thread. Some say that it is a mere political ploy on the LTTE's part in an attempt to put pressure on the government and foreign mediators to take their demands seriously. Others feel that the LTTE were actually being marginalized in the process. Without Tiger input, the donor community will be unable to give the economic aid package they are willing to give on the one condition that all parties in Sri Lanka agree and are satisfied by the offer. Rocca made this clear while talking to journalists in Colombo last week saying, "In each visit I have shared the international community's fervent hope that these quarrels be set aside so that a clear, consistent, and united Sri Lankan voice is heard at Tokyo."

Sri Lanka was hoping to secure a $3 billion aid package for economic development and rebuilding the war-ravaged infrastructure of the country. However, chances for receiving the package are fading away as the Tigers refuse to give their consent to the offer. They insist that in order for talks to resume, the Sri Lankan government has to channel resources for economic and social development into rebel territory in the north.

The LTTE have been fighting a fierce secessionist war with the Sri Lankan government since the late 1970s. Composed of the Tamil minority of Sri Lanka, the Tigers demand a separate homeland in the north of the Sri Lankan island. They have primarily resorted to terrorist tactics including torturing the Sinhalese Sri Lankans in the north of the country who have periodically undergone repeated torture and rape by the Tigers in order to force them to flee these areas. Their primary targets have always been Sinhalese civilians. The Tigers have been supported and financed by previous Indian governments. However, their primary source of finance today is through "charities" and foundations set up by expatriate Sri Lankan Tamils in the West, especially in the U.K. and France. The rebel forces undergo rigorous training and use sophisticated weaponry purchased from former Soviet states.

The Tamil Tigers were the first terrorist organization to use suicide bombings as a political weapon and, according to the BBC, have carried out more suicide bombings than have all other terrorist organizations in the world put together. The Tigers have also come under attack from organizations like UNICEF and Amnesty International for recruiting child soldiers who form a large part of their 10,000-member strong fighting force. Many of these children are as young as 12 years old and are forcibly abducted from their parents by the Tigers before they are formally recruited into the fighting force. Only recently have the Tigers admitted to recruiting child soldiers and have promised to tackle the issue. However, no proper plan has been put in place and international human rights organizations doubt if any genuine effort is being made to keep child recruits out of the force.

Political analysts fear that if efforts are not made to thaw out tensions between the Tigers and the Sri Lankan government, the country could see an upsurge of violence and a renewed sense of rebellion among members of the most ruthless rebel organization in the world.