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Breakaway Lanka rebels set sights on elections

Written by: Staff
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Colombo, Aug 9: A band of breakaway rebels in Sri Lanka whose feuding with the mainstream Tamil Tigers is stoking fears of a return to civil war opened an office in the capital today, aiming to eventually contest elections.

The Tigers accuse the group, led by renegade commander Col.

Karuna, of attacking them with the help of the military. President Mahinda Rajapakse's government refuses to disarm Karuna's group, which led to the collapse of peace talks between the government and the Tigers earlier this year.

The office is being opened as the military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are locked in the fiercest fighting since a 2002 truce halted a two-decade civil war and as clashes between the two bands of rebels escalates.

''We have opened our political head office of the Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) in Colombo to actively participate in political activities,'' party spokesman Thangaweel Thuyawan told Reuters by telephone via a translator.

''We are hoping to contest upcoming elections under the name of TMVP with the blessings of our leader Karuna Amman.'' Provincial council elections are not due until 2009, while the next general election is due in 2010.

First, TMVP must register itself as a recognised political party.

The opening of the new office comes a day after suspected Tiger rebels attacked a minority Tamil political opponent from a party allied to the government with a car bomb in Colombo, killing his bodyguard and a three-year-old boy.

''There is a threat to us, but it's a duty of the government to give the security to our political party,'' Thuyawan said.

Karuna split from the Tigers, taking an estimated 6,000 loyal fighters with him, in early 2004 after accusing the leadership of discriminating against Tamils in the east, his traditional stronghold.

Most of his followers are believed to have either returned to civilian life or rejoined the Tigers, and his force is now estimated to number a few hundred at most. Karuna, widely considered to be shadowy rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran's No.2 before the split, has lived in hiding since.

''Whether the leader Karuna Amman contests the next elections cannot be confirmed now but definitely the party will contest and he might contest the elections as the party leader,'' Thuyawan said.

REUTERS

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