Vol. 4 Num 94 Fri. August 29, 2003  

Lankan reds stage protest against peace parleys

Thousands of Marxist supporters headed to the Sri Lankan capital Thursday on the final leg of a four-day march protesting the Norwegian-brokered talks between the government and Tamil rebels, organisers said.

The Marxist JVP party, which is in talks to form an alliance with President Chandrika Kumaratunga's party, is opposed to the efforts to bring an end to the island's separatist conflict which has claimed more than 60,000 lives since 1972.

Officials said thousands of JVP activists were expected to reach Colombo later Thursday to stage a protest rally denouncing alleged concessions to Tamil Tiger rebels.

The JVP has organised similar rallies in the past to drum up support against a proposed interim administration for the island's embattled northeast where Tiger rebels would have a lion's share of the authority.

The JVP argues the interim administration would pave the way secession.

The latest protest comes as Norway's special envoy Erik Solheim met a Tamil Tiger delegation in Paris to discuss their response to Colombo's offer of the interim administration aimed at reviving the stalled peace bid.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the government have been observing a ceasefire since February last year, but the Tigers withdrew from talks on April 21.

The rebels have accused the government of failing to deliver on promises and made the establishment of an interim council a pre-condition to resume talks.

The JVP argues the Tigers are demanding an "interim state administration" and are strengthening themselves politically, economically and militarily to achieve a separate state called Eelam.

At previous rounds of talks the LTTE gave up their demand for a separate state, saying they were instead seeking greater autonomy.

The JVP led an armed insurrection in 1971 and in 1987, but entered mainstream politics in 1994 and have 16 seats in the 225-member national parliament.

The JVP was originally opposed to mainstream political groups, but is currently in talks with Kumaratunga's party in a bid to topple the cohabitation government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.