Kilinochchi (Sri Lanka), Apr 20: Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels pulled out of peace talks indefinitely today, saying the island was heading for war and dashing hopes that a Norwegian peace mission could stem rising violence.
About 80 people have been killed in the past two weeks in a series of suspected Tiger attacks, ethnic riots and unsolved murders which the two sides blame on each other.
Talks due to take place in Switzerland next week had been seen as the best chance to reduce tension, but the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said today they would not attend until ''normality'' returned.
''We are not in a position to attend the Geneva talks on the currently decided dates under the present environment,'' head of the LTTE political wing S P Thamilselvan told reporters. ''It is the government that is creating a war-like situation and pushing us towards war.'' The Tigers' two-decade fight for a separate Tamil homeland has already killed more than 64,000 on both sides and, while the island's majority Sinhalese south was largely spared, the Tamil-dominated north and east was left in ruins.
With the Geneva meeting already postponed once by the Tigers last week, Norway, which brokered a 2002 ceasefire, sent envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer to try to save the talks.
But he failed to secure meetings either with President Mahinda Rajapakse or reclusive Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, and some diplomats increasingly say that neither side is really serious about moving the peace process forward.
CLUTCHING AT HOPE
The Tigers had already said they were provisionally pulling out of the talks due to problems in transporting eastern rebel leaders to a pre-talks meeting. The government eventually offered private helicopters to transport rebel commanders, but Thamilselvan said this too was unacceptable.
He again denied that the rebels were behind recent attacks on the military -- something few believe -- and said killings of Tamil civilians and ethnic riots in the northeast must also stop before talks could take place.
''It is planned, pre-meditated ethnic cleansing by the government,'' he said. ''If we are to attend Geneva talks, the situation should come towards normalcy. People have lost patience.
That is why there are attacks on the military.'' The army said it had killed one Tiger rebel today as he tried to attack a government position, while a member of an anti-Tiger Tamil political group was shot dead in the east. A fragmentation mine exploded in the north, but no one was hurt.
Analysts say that what the Tigers really want is for the government to disarm or rein in the Karuna group of renegade ex-rebels, who have been attacking the Tigers in the east. With Karuna seen strengthening the army's hand if war restarts, analysts say that is extremely unlikely.
And without new talks to act as a safety valve, few see any alternative to violence rising further, possibly including Black Tiger suicide bombers hitting the streets of Colombo, which would shatter confidence in the 20 billion dollar economy.
''The only thing you can clutch on to is that the situation will get so bad that it will shock the two sides into a new mindset and that will make them more flexible,'' said analyst Rohan Edrisinha at the Centre for Policy Alternatives, a Colombo think-tank.