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S Lanka Tigers want key road opened for more talks

Written by: Staff
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COLOMBO, Oct 27 (Reuters) Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels threatened today to scupper future peace negotiations if the government does not agree to open the main highway to the country's restive north at talks in Geneva this weekend.

The closure of the A-9 highway to the Tamil-dominated Jaffna peninsula by the government in August after a surge in fighting between the rebels and government forces has led to hardship among many minority Tamils living in the area.

''The opening of the A-9 is the main thing under the humanitarian issue,'' rebel media coordinator Daya Master told Reuters by phone from Tiger-held Kilinochchi in the north.

''If they reject or don't open the A-9, (there is) no chance to continue the talks.'' The Indian Ocean island nation has witnessed intense fighting since July, killing some 1,000 people, including many civilians, and a 2002 truce virtually redundant.

Yesterday, Human Rights Watch urged both sides to protect civilians and provide designated conflict-free sanctuaries.

The government says it was forced to shut the highway due to rebel attacks, and Colombo supplies the Jaffna region regularly by ship or aircraft.

But local residents, Tamil political groups and civil society organisations complain of widespread shortages and a possible humanitarian crisis due to the closure.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) spokesman was not upbeat about the Geneva talks.

''Our side says we are going to discuss the humanitarian issues. The government says the political issues. So far no agenda ... Let's wait and see,'' Master said.

More than 65,000 people have been killed since 1983 in the ethnic conflict.

The LTTE is fighting for an independent homeland for the Tamils, many of who complain of discrimination by the Sinhalese political class and the government.

REUTERS AB DS1230

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