- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Sri Lanka's prime minister said yesterday that a U.S. cutoff of fund transfers from Tamil expatriates in the United States since September 11 has forced the Tamil Tigers to sue for peace after a 20-year struggle in which 80,000 people died.
"Many [Tamils in the United States] had to contribute when they asked them to do so there was pressure," Ranil Wickremesinghe told The Washington Times in an interview in advance of his meeting tomorrow with President Bush.
"The money helped the LTTE a great deal. But they were not able to get the money across in the last year," he said, using the acronym for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers.
According to the State Department, which has declared the Tamil Tigers a terrorist group, the organization "exploits large Tamil communities in North America often through false claims or even extortion."
After September 11, President Bush issued an executive order blocking assets of the Tigers and 188 other groups linked to terrorism.
Canada, Britain and Australia followed suit and barred the flow of funds to the Tigers and several front groups.
The leader of the Tamil Tigers, Velupillai Prabhakaran, declared a cease-fire and opened peace talks with the Colombo government this spring because of the international climate opposing terrorism, the prime minister said.
"They have no other option," Mr. Wickremesinghe said. "The LTTE realized the world situation is not favorable to them."
Like other militant separatist or religious movements that used terrorism as a tool, the Tiger spokesmen abroad contended that they were a persecuted Hindu minority fighting a legitimate struggle for their rights.
But inside the island nation off India's southeast coast, the Tigers murdered all their Tamil centrist opposition, massacred ethnic Singhalese and sowed terror.
The 15-million-strong majority Singhalese discriminated against the 3 million Tamils over language and economic development and religious issues, but it paled against the terrifying slaughter of the past 20 years.
The Tigers assassinated Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at a campaign rally in India in 1991 and Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993.
European Nordic nations are monitoring the current cease-fire and the peace talks.
The next round of talks, originally set for May, has been put off until August because the Tigers want to see whether the Colombo government carries out its promised withdrawal of troops from Tamil temples and schools by Aug. 2, 160 days after the cease-fire agreement was signed.
The Tigers also are to open the road from the Jaffna Peninsula in the north to the central city of Kandy, under the agreement.
The Tigers in 1983 began a bloody struggle to create a separate Tamil state in the north and northeast.
At first aided by Indian security officials, the Tigers later turned against India when it sent a peacekeeping force to pacify the rebellion in 1988.
A series of Sri Lankan leaders sought to make peace with the Tigers, but all efforts collapsed into fresh violence marked by massive car bombings in Colombo as well as massacres of government troops when captured and of ethnic Singhalese who fell into Tiger hands.
The Tigers would commit suicide when captured by biting on cyanide capsules they wear around their necks. They also recruit boys and girls as young as 13 to serve as fighters.
Mr. Wickremesinghe said yesterday that he is willing to meet with Mr. Prabhakaran. "The challenge for the LTTE is to become a political organization," he said.
The government's goal in the talks will be to keep the country unified but to "devolve" power downward to the regions, granting Tamils control of social, economic and cultural affairs in their regions.
However, all regions would still be under central control, and appeals from local laws would be heard by the supreme court in Colombo, he said.
Mr. Wickremesinghe will be the first Sri Lankan leader since 1984 to meet an American president when he meets Mr. Bush. He also will meet Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
He will ask for military training by U.S. Special Forces. Sri Lanka is already receiving some spare parts and nonlethal military equipment. The island is the site of a major U.S. Voice of America transmitting tower.
Mr. Wickremesinghe will also request trade advantages, such as opening up the U.S. market to Sri Lankan exports of textiles and other goods.


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