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Sri Lanka wants talks despite attacks: Minister

Written by: Staff

Tokyo, May 18: Despite a recent surge in violence, the government of Sri Lanka remains committed to talks with Tamil rebels, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said today.

With more than 270 troops and civilians killed since early April, and a clash last week -- including a fierce naval battle and aerial bombing -- described as the worst since a 2002 truce, some analysts are saying the war has resumed in all but name.

''Notwithstanding the recent provocations ... we still are committed to finding a solution through negotiations,'' Samaraweera told a business gathering in Japan.

The rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have described the current situation as a low-intensity war, but the government says its retaliation to Tiger attacks has been limited and falls well short of war.

''Despite the fact that different Sri Lankan governments since 1985 have attempted to negotiate with the LTTE, their willingness to embrace democracy still remains elusive,'' the minister said.

The 2002 ceasefire halted a two-decade civil war in which more than 64,000 people died.

Samaraweera thanked Japan for its efforts during peace negotiations under the leadership of special envoy Yasushi Akashi, and said more international pressure needed to be brought to bear on the LTTE.

Diplomats said yesterday that the European Union was set to list the LTTE as a terrorist organisation, following a similar move by the United States, Canada and Britain.

A ban on the group would shut down its premises and freeze its assets, a move Samaraweera said was essential for curtailing rebel attacks and bringing them back to the negotiating table.

''It's only the international community that has any leverage,'' he added.

Samaraweera, who arrived in Japan yesterday, was scheduled to meet his Japanese counterpart, Taro Aso, tomorrow.


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