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Analysis: Sri Lanka's bid to woo rebels

By KUSHAL JEENA, UPI Correspondent

NEW DELHI, Dec. 8 (UPI) -- Sri Lanka's invitation to Norway to continue mediating in its conflict with Tamil rebels is aimed at persuading the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam against returning to conflict, analysts said Thursday.

"The move could be a bid to prevail upon the LTTE not to resume ethnic conflict because Norwegian peace negotiators recognize only the LTTE as the sole representative among Tamil groups in Sri Lanka," said senior political analyst R.C. Rajamani at the Statesman newspaper. On Wednesday, Sri Lanka's new president, Mahinda Rajapakse, who is seen as a hard-liner, invited Norway to continue its role as a facilitator in the peace process. Rajamani said the president's move could be an effort to persuade the LTTE to understand it still has a chance.

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"The president extended this invitation when Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar called on him. President Rajapakse also met the four co-chairs -- the United States, Britain (European Union president), Japan and Norway on Wednesday afternoon to brief them on his ongoing consultations and preparatory work for the continuation of the peace process," said a Sri Lankan government statement released after the meeting.

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An official at the Sri Lankan Embassy in New Delhi said Norway had said it would like to continue its role in the peace process.

Rajapakse's hard-line Buddhist and Marxist allies have opposed a Norwegian role, saying Oslo is sympathetic to the LTTE. An Indian Foreign Ministry official said they were keen on bringing India into the process.

The renewed efforts at peace come amid a spike in violence that shattered the 2002 cease-fire between the two sides.

Two recent mine attacks against government soldiers in the northern Tamil-majority part of the country killed 14 soldiers. After the attacks, Norway's peace monitors asked the international community to help stem the violence.

"The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission urges the international community to use their influence in order to arrest the situation and make way for renewed peace talks," the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission said in a statement. "The recent escalation of violence in Jaffna peninsula is of great concern to everyone and the SLMM strongly condemns the cowardly attacks that have resulted in the deaths of several soldiers of Sri Lankan army and civilians."

There remain fears, however, that violence will resume as Tamil rebels have hinted they will restart their armed struggle. The LTTE called for a boycott of the Nov. 17 presidential election that brought Rajapakse to power, prompting concern that a collapse of the political process was imminent.

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Rajamani said more moderate Tamil groups may be disappointed by Rajapakse's move.

"Without the participation of at least a few other Tamil rebel groups, the peace negotiations might lack conviction," he said.

Others say the LTTE may have expected a more hard-line position from the new Sri Lankan leader, which could justify its walking out of the truce agreement.

Instead, Rajapakse offered direct dialogue with LTTE leader V. Prabhakaran for a lasting solution to the country's ethnic problem and the rebel chief responded positively.

The LTTE's two-decade-long armed struggle has killed several thousand. A cease-fire in 2002 ended the violence.

"Barring LTTE, almost all other Tamil groups have somewhat reconciled to a solution to the issue within the constitution of Sri Lanka," said Rajamani, adding many of those groups believed the LTTE was the only thing standing between them and a solution to the ethnic divide.

Experts also say it will not be easy for Rajapakse to persuade his main allies, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and the Jathika Hela Urumaya, who have been demanding Oslo's exit from the process, of his decision to invite the Norwegians to stay.

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