Sri Lanka

Rebels ask: Is S.Lanka ready to risk war over aid?

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By Joe Ariyaratnam

KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka, June 7 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's government is dragging its feet over plans to share $3 billion in tsunami aid with Tamil areas and risks plunging the island into a dangerous situation, Tamil Tiger rebels warned on Tuesday.

Nearly six months after the Indian Ocean tsunami battered Sri Lanka's coast and flattened communities on both sides of the ethnic divide, senior government aides say bickering over the issue within the ruling coalition could force a snap election.

"If they do not definitely say they would sign the joint mechanism, the situation would become very serious and dangerous," Tiger political wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan said in Kilinochchi, the rebels' northern stronghold, after talks with a visiting Norwegian envoy.

"It seems to us that the government is keen to resume war on the basis of today's happenings," he added, referring to government stalling on the aid pact and the recent killings of a number of Tiger cadres which the group blames on the military.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga's government sought on Tuesday to convince its Marxist ally not to follow through on a threat to quit the coalition over the planned aid-sharing pact, while anti-Tiger Buddhist monks vowed fresh protests of their own.

The Marxist People's Liberation Front (JVP) is virulently opposed to the rebels, calling them fascists who should never be granted the self-rule they demand. The government would lose its slim working majority in parliament if the JVP defects.

Some senior government officials say Kumaratunga could use special powers to freeze parliament so as to push the pact through and buy time to defuse the political volatility.

Sri Lanka's stock market <.CSE> has fallen more than 3.6 percent since Friday as domestic politics worried investors.

One Buddhist monk has already begun a fast-to-the-death, and hundreds more who vehemently oppose the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have vowed to converge on Colombo on Wednesday to stage protests of their own.

"Opposition to the deal is growing daily so the President must listen to the majority," said the Venerable Vakamulle Uditha Thero, media secretary of the National Bhikkhu Front, which is closely linked to the JVP.

"If she ignores our warnings and agrees to a deal with the LTTE, that will be the end of her political career," he said. "You can't ignore the legitimate views of the majority in a democratic country and hope to survive in office as head of state."

Both the United States and India support the aid-sharing pact, which they hope could serve as a platform to seek a lasting end to a civil war that killed over 64,000 people before a ceasefire in 2002.

Swathes of Sri Lanka's northeast still lie in ruins after years of incessant shelling, and donors are keen that pledged aid be used to rebuild areas reduced to rubble by the war too. (Additional reporting by Arjuna Wickramasinghe)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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