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Sri Lankan president cautions rebels

By
RAVI R. PRASAD, United Press International

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Aug. 16 (UPI) -- Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga has cautioned the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam that she would order troops to march into the rebel-controlled areas if the internecine war between the guerrillas were to endanger the country's stability.

Such action would amount to a violation of the two-year-old Norwegian brokered cease-fire.

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In an interview with United Press International -- the first after her party returned to power in April -- Kumaratunga said that the only way to control the situation in eastern Sri Lanka would be to send in troops.

Shortly after the interview, the government issued a statement Monday when a senior Tamil party member was gunned down in the capital Colombo by suspected LTTE gunmen.

"The government will assert its authority firmly and fairly in order to uphold law and order, maintain the cease-fire agreement and observe the civilized standards our people deserve and expect," the statement said.

"The government of Sri Lanka is concerned that these incidents are being perpetrated with disregard to the provisions of the cease-fire agreement, and contrary to the spirit of building an environment for peace."

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The Tamil Tigers are accusing the government of providing shelter to the renegade leader of the east. The two groups have been engaged in a bloody guerrilla battle between themselves, completely destabilizing the eastern part of the country.

Kumaratunga said in the UPI interview that her government had offered to bring law and order under control even in the LTTE-controlled areas, but the rebels refused. The offer was made soon after the split within the guerrilla organization.

The president said if the situation were to risk going out of control, she would act firmly.

"I have never balked at doing what is required of me as the head of state in the national interest," Kumaratunga said. "Even at the risk of my life, I have had attempted to the best of my ability to execute responsibilities handed to me by the people, entrusted to me by the people ... at two presidential elections. ... We will not hesitate if it appears to us after long reflection that it is required in the national interest."

Asked if she were willing to meet LTTE's elusive leader Velupillai Prabhakaran to thrash out the issues across the table, Kumaratunga, who survived an assignation attempt by a suspected Tamil Tiger suicide bomber in 1999, said she was willing and had even made an offer for that 10 years ago when the first peace talks were held.

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"Not for the sake of just shaking hands but if negotiations begin and we are progressing positively quite definitely at some point of time we have to meet," said the president. "Even though he could have been my murderer, and still is a potential assassin, as long as I hold this position I will have to forget personal considerations and lead the country. If that is required, yes."

The Norwegian-brokered peace process that began in 2002 has come to a grinding halt. The LTTE has refused to come to the negotiating table and is insisting that the government accept its demand for setting up an interim administration in the Tamil-dominated north and east of the country. That too, in accordance with the proposals submitted by the LTTE.

Efforts to discuss the proposals have failed as the LTTE remains defiant.

Kumaratunga said that her government has send seven or eight different draft proposals, but the LTTE failed to reply. Moreover, the LTTE leaders are preoccupied with the recent split in the east.

"It appears that the LTTE present leadership's main concern is this and they want to stabilize the eastern situation before they come to talks," Kumaratunga said. "And our impression is that the agenda is not the main point."

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While the LTTE has given the impression that the government is delaying their proposals of interim administration, Kumaratunga put the record straight.

For the first time, she revealed that the government had actually offered to go along with the establishment of the interim administration.

"We have gone 75 percent of the way, the Tigers are not willing come the other 25 percent of the way," Kumaratunga said. "We are still hoping to persuade them to come 25 percent of the way because we have gone 75 percent of the way."

The president said the government had indicated to the LTTE that it would agree to allow it in the interim administration.

"... We must sit down and talk about the final solution," Kumaratunga said.

"The LTTE said 'No, we are not ready to talk of the final solution, only the interim solution. You have to talk about it, sign it, set it up, finish setting it up, then we will start talking, while it is operational, of the final solution.' So we told them, you know it is a bit of a joke if they expect any government agree to that," Kumaratunga said.

In spite of the hiccups in the peace process and the bloody guerrilla war between the two factions being fought in the east as well as in the capital Colombo, Kumaratunga is still confident that the peace process will move forward.

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