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Sri Lanka to Discuss Political Settlement With Tamil Parties

[Bloomberg, Wednesday, 25 March 2009 07:39 No Comment]

rjp Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa invited Tamil political parties to discuss a settlement to separatist demands, as the army says it is on the brink of defeating the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

 

Rajapaksa invited Tamil and Muslim parties currently in parliament and those represented previously in the assembly to a meeting tomorrow, the government said on its Web site.

 

“The military campaign against the LTTE has reached a decisive phase and there is considerable interest in the government’s moves to activate the political process for a resolution of the ethnic conflict,” the government said.

 

The LTTE has been fighting for a separate Tamil homeland in the north and east of the nation for 26 years. The army has driven the Tamil Tigers from their main bases in the north since January and says the rebels now hold only 24 square kilometers (9.3 square miles) of land near the northeastern port of Mullaitivu.

An All Party Representative Committee has drawn up plans for both devolution and sharing of power with the local administrations in Tamil-dominated areas in the north and east.

 

The plan is based on a 1987 constitutional amendment that arose from an accord with India. The LTTE rejected the amendment in 1988, saying the proposal was meaningless because the national parliament retained the power to rule on matters allocated to provincial authorities.

 

Tamil Referendum

The LTTE will respect any outcome of a referendum on an independent Tamil state as long as Tamils are allowed to return to their homes in the north and east of the country, B. Nadesan, the head of the group’s political wing, said in an interview with the U.K.’s Sunday Times newspaper published at the weekend.

Rajapaksa “has been consistent in stating that he does not believe in imposing any political solution, but would be interested in knowing the views of all political parties for the purpose of arriving at a consensus on any set of proposals,” the government said on its Web site.

 

The Tamil National Alliance, the largest Tamil group in parliament, holding 22 seats in the 225-member body, is among those invited by Rajapaksa, the government said. TNA leaders are meeting to decide whether to attend, the Island newspaper reported yesterday, citing unidentified party members.

Soldiers are fighting the Tamil Tigers around Puthukkudiyiruppu near Mullaitivu where the LTTE is “now cornered” and “facing its end-game,” the Defense Ministry said on its Web site.

 

Truce Talks

Rajapaksa’s government has rejected holding any cease-fire talks with the LTTE, saying it wants the group’s unconditional surrender. It accuses the Tamil Tigers of holding between 75,000 and 120,000 civilians in the conflict zone.

 

Nadesan, in his interview, called for a cease-fire to allow supplies to reach civilians. Tamils are being subjected to “genocidal warfare” through non-stop artillery shelling and aerial attacks that are killing civilians, he said.

 

The government says more than 51,000 people have fled into government-controlled areas since January.

Sri Lanka’s army is continuing to shell areas declared a “no fire zone,” Human Rights Watch said yesterday.

“We receive reports of civilians being killed and wounded daily in the ‘no fire’ zone, while the Sri Lankan government continues to deny the attacks,” Brad Adams, the New York-based group’s Asia director, said. “The Tamil Tigers’ use of civilians as human shields adds to the bloodshed.”

 

The situation in the north is being distorted by unsubstantiated reports, the Defense Ministry said on its Web site yesterday.

 

Tamils made up 11.9 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 20 million and the Sinhalese almost 74 percent, according to a census from 2001.

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