Sri Lanka says Tigers must stop violence
The dispute over the status of the A9 highway -- a key source of income for the guerrillas who "tax" goods and people moving on it -- led to the collapse of Norwegian-brokered peace talks held in Switzerland over the weekend.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels had argued that the Tamil population was cut off from the south of the country and the closure had led to a severe humanitarian crisis.
"If all violence was stopped and normalcy is restored the government will open the A9," top government negotiator Nimal Siripala De Silva told reporters on returning from Geneva.
Norwegian mediators had been aiming to set new dates for two more rounds of face-to-face negotiations in December and January, but the Tigers said they would return to the table only after the highway was opened.
But De Silva argued the road was closed at a single exit entry point at Muhamalai in Jaffna and that over 100 kilometres (60 miles) of the highway was still open and running through two rebel-held districts of Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi.
"The government was forced to close Muhamalai due to fighting which started in Jaffna on 11 August. They had destroyed the entire infrastructure of the entry point," said Rohitha Bogollagama, the Minister of Enterprise Development and another government delegate at the Geneva talks.
De Silva meanwhile insisted that that the October 28 and 29 talks had been "a success" -- reasoning that the rebels had shown a willingness to discuss the political issues connected to the conflict.
Norway has accused both sides of not delivering on promises they made when they met in Switzerland in February to discuss an earlier escalation of violence which left 153 people in the three previous months.
However, since that meeting more than 3,000 people have been killed and more than 200,000 internally displaced.
The conflict in Sri Lanka is Asia's longest and bloodiest separatist war, claiming over 60,000 lives since the LTTE launched its bid for Tamil independence in 1972.
Copyright (c) 2006 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 10/31/2006 06:25:37
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