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SL: Stop violence against ethnic Tamils say rebels

Written by: Staff

Colombo, Apr 18: Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels today said they will not attend a new round of scheduled peace talks in Geneva unless violence against ethnic Tamils stops, effectively adding new conditions for their participation.

The rebels pulled out of the talks, already postponed once and now due to take place next week, at the weekend in a dispute over the transport of their eastern commanders to a meeting of the rebel leadership.

The government has agreed that the commanders can be transported to the rebels' northern stronghold by a private helicopter, but the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) now also want what they call a ''conducive environment''.

''While our people are being killed and our shops are being looted we are not going to Geneva,'' head of the Tiger peace secretariat S Puleedevan told Reuters by satellite phone.

Puleedevan said the LTTE, who have fought for two decades for a Tamil homeland, would discuss these issues, including that of the transport of eastern leaders, with Norwegian envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer when he visits them on Thursday.

''We will need to discuss a lot of things, for example, the genocide of Tamils in Trincomalee, attacks of Tamil businessmen. Yesterday night, there was a paramilitary attack on us...'' Police disputed the labelling of ethnic riots in the northeastern port city of Trincomalee as ''genocide''. Mobs from the island's Sinhalese majority attacked Tamil shops after a suspected LTTE bomb exploded in a marketplace. Police say eight or nine Tamils were killed.

''The Sri Lankan army and Sinhalese thugs have attacked Tamils,'' said Puleedevan. ''What we are saying is we have to have a conducive atmosphere.'' The LTTE denies carrying out recent attacks on military and police posts and vehicles, but few diplomats or analysts believe them. Increasingly, diplomats say they believe the LTTE never intended to come to the talks at all.

He said the rebels also wanted everything agreed upon at the first round of Geneva talks in February -- the first direct meeting since 2003 -- to be implemented.

There, the government pledged to disarm Tamil armed groups operating from army-held territory and attacking the Tigers, primarily a reference to breakaway ex-rebels the Karuna group.

Diplomats say that has not, and probably will not, happen.

''Geneva 1 has to be implemented before Geneva 2,'' said Puleedevan.


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