04/20/2006, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Tamil Tigers boycott peace talks

Rebels in the north-east, where violence is on the increase, have postponed the second round of talks with Colombo until "normality returns". There are growing fears of a return to civil war.

Trincomalee (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Tamil Tiger  rebels will boycott the second round of peace talks with the Sinhalese government that were to be held next week in Geneva, said their political leader. SP Thamilselvan was speaking at the end of a meeting with the Norwegian mediator of the peace process, Jon Hanssen-Bauer, in Kilinochchi in the north.

The reason was put down to "recent violence against Tamil civilians" in the north-east of the country. In a statement, the rebels warned that they would not take part in talks "normality returns". After the first round of talks in Geneva in February, the second meeting was originally slated for 19 and 20 April and later postponed to 24 and 25 April.

Dozens of people have been killed in the north and east since violence escalated on 8 April. For more than a week, the situation in Trincomalee has been critical; more than 1,000 people have fled their homes after a marketplace was attacked on 12 April.

The Tigers are fighting for autonomy for the Tamil minority in the north and east of Sri Lanka. More than 60,000 people have been killed in 20 years of civil war. The resumption of talks, stalled since 2003, is seen as crucial to save the already fragile ceasefire in place since 2002, but often violated.

Some experts say the Tigers are seeking to put off the talks until Colombo meets their requests. Chief among these is the disarmament of paramilitaries and of Karuna's army, a splinter group of the rebels that broke away in March 2004. According to the rebels, this group may enjoy the support of the government. The Tigers are also asking for the cessation of violence against the Tamil population in the north-east. Meanwhile, they continue to deny responsibility for recent attacks targeting the military, stoking fears of a return to civil war.

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