Vol. 5 Num 295 Sat. March 26, 2005  

Lanka peace talks on 'backburner'

Sri Lanka's foreign minister ruled out an early resumption of peace talks to end a three-decade conflict with Tamil Tiger rebels but said a deal on disbursing tsunami relief was possible.

"A formal resumption of the peace process is very much on the backburner," Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar told a meeting of the Foreign Correspondents' Association of Sri Lanka here late Thursday.

Kadirgamar however said the government could sign a deal brokered by Norway with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to provide a formula for distributing tsunami relief as long as it was not seen giving the rebels de facto recognition as a government.

The remarks came as President Chandrika Kumaratunga's administration faced pressure from its Marxist coalition partner, the JVP or People's Liberation Front, which is opposed to any involvement of rebels in relief operations that could give them political recognition.

The Marxists initially warned they would pull out of the government if the rebels were given any official role in tsunami relief operations.

"What the JVP will do when it (the joint mechanism,) is signed and sealed, I do not know," Kadirgamar said. "Indications are that that they will voice opposition. If that opposition remains the same after they have seen the fine print, we do not know."

Peace talks have been stalled since April 2003. In April 2004, Kumara-tunga won a general election with the support of the Marxists who oppose any moves to divide the country along religious or ethnic lines.

The previous government had broadly agreed to establish a federal state in Sri Lanka to resolve a long-running separatist conflict which claimed more than 60,000 lives between 1972 and 2002.