- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 1, 2001

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka Tamil Tiger rebels rejected this week Sri Lanka's offer of peace talks as "political duplicity" and said they would have nothing to do with President Chandrika Kumaratunga's minority government.
The separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said the offer of a cease-fire was aimed at diverting attention from a deepening political crisis facing the government.
The ruling People's Alliance has lost its parliamentary majority and the opposition is pressing for a no-confidence vote to bring about early elections.
Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar said on Wednesday that the government was considering offering a cease-fire and inviting the LTTE for talks.
But LTTE London-based spokesman Anton Balasingham said the offer was "calculated political duplicity to divert the attention of the people and the world from the deepening crisis in Colombo."
Mr. Balasingham was quoted on the pro-rebel Tamilnet.com as saying that peace talks should not be a crisis-management exercise invoked by a government on the verge of collapse.
"The LTTE is not naive [enough] to jump on a sinking ship," he said.
"Now the government is facing a serious crisis politically and is compelled to seek desperate measures to cling onto power," Mr. Balasingham added.
"Having failed to work out an agreement with the main opposition, the Chandrika regime is offering a new peace bid, claiming that this is a 'reassessment of policy.'"
His remarks Thursday came the day after the foreign minister's offer was made and shortly after the rebels were blamed for a bomb attack in eastern Sri Lanka in which two policemen and a civilian were killed.
Earlier in August, the LTTE had said it was keeping the door open for talks and was eager to revive Norway's bid to broker a settlement to a conflict that has killed more than 60,000 people in the past three decades.
Before Mr. Balasingham spoke out, the moderate Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) said it did not expect the government's offer to herald fresh peace efforts because the administration of Mrs. Kumaratunga was racked by crisis.
"As such the LTTE, which is in a very strong position, might not want to accept a cease-fire," said TULF legislator Joseph Pararajasingham.
Sri Lanka's main opposition United National Party (UNP) said peace prospects had been undermined by the failure of its talks with the government on Tuesday to end the political deadlock.
Government and opposition sources said at midweek that the country is now headed for early elections to resolve the unprecedented political deadlock, even though elections are not due until 2006.
"The UNP is committed to uplifting the living standards of the people of this nation from the economic and social degradation they are now in," that party said after the talks broke off. "But the UNP is not in any way committed to propping up a government that is corrupt, inefficient and a minority in Parliament."
Senior government minister Mangala Samaraweera retorted by accusing the opposition of behaving "unreasonably."
Earlier, the government had also tried to enter into a deal with the People's Liberation Front (JVP), a Marxist party that has 10 seats in the 225-member Parliament.
However, the government turned down a JVP demand to reconvene Parliament, suspended by the president until Sept. 7 in an attempt to stave off a no-confidence motion.
The UNP and the People's Alliance, which together represent about 90 percent of the electorate, were to jointly invite the LTTE for talks if they were able to hammer out a deal to end the political crisis.
UNP legislator K.N. Choksy said the collapse of the talks was a blow to prospects for constitutional reform to offer greater autonomy to minority Tamils in exchange for peace.
However, the foreign minister said the government would go ahead on its own and invite the Tamil Tigers for talks at an unspecified date.
Mr. Kadirgamar, the foreign minister, said the new truce offer would be made through Norway, which has been trying to broker peace on the island nation.
Norway has tried for the past two years to arrange face-to-face talks between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, but failed amid rebel demands that the government lift a 1998 ban on dealing with them.
The government had insisted that a truce could only take place after peace talks began, but Mr. Kadirgamar said the sides could now have a "mutually agreed" truce.
Colombo refused to join a one-sided cease-fire declared by the LTTE at Christmas that lasted until April.
The Tigers' July 24 attack against the country's only international airport signaled a resumption of heavy fighting, and since then there have been heavy casualties in the island's northeast, where the LTTE is fighting for an independent homeland.
On Thursday, a bomb attack blamed on the Tamil Tigers killed two policemen and a civilian in eastern Sri Lanka. Hours after the blast, air force jets ended a four-day lull by pounding suspected LTTE positions in the northern Jaffna Peninsula, Defense Ministry spokesman Sanath Karunaratne said.
The bomb, planted on a motorcycle, went off opposite a bank in the town of Kalmunai. Besides the three deaths, seven civilians suffered injuries.

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