Sri Lanka drops Norwegian peace initiative to end Tamil war

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The Independent Online

The Sri Lankan government has abandoned a Norwegian peace initiative aimed at ending the country's Tamil separatist war just a few days before its parliamentary elections, a Cabinet minister said Thursday.

The Sri Lankan government has abandoned a Norwegian peace initiative aimed at ending the country's Tamil separatist war just a few days before its parliamentary elections, a Cabinet minister said Thursday.

"Our government feels that the olive branches we have been extending to the terrorists have been misunderstood," Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera said. "We want peace, but peace cannot be achieved by one party, that is us, asking for it. So we have decided to shut the door."

The minister's remarks came a day after Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka told a news conference his government was shutting the door on peace talks with rebels from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

"Let the Norwegians do what they want, all that is in the past," Wickramanayaka said.

Norway has been playing the role of a peace broker between the outlawed rebels and the government for the past eight months.

Norwegian diplomats made several visits to Sri Lanka, but the peace process never got off the ground. Instead fighting escalated in the north, part of the region the rebels want to turn into an independent state for the Tamil minority.

The government's hardline approach may be aimed at winning the support of the majority Sinhalese voters, most of whom are opposed to peace talks with the rebels. The move also is expected to appease the powerful Buddhist clergy, which opposes any negotiations with the rebels.

The last time the government held peace talks with the guerrillas was in 1995, one year after President Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power. The talks failed after the rebels rejected the government's autonomy offer. They demanded an independent Tamil nation.

"The stage for peace talks is over," Wickramanayaka said.

"We will now work for a complete eradication of terrorism and we will also eradicate the terrorist leader," he said, referring to Vellupillai Prabhakaran, who heads the Tamil Tigers.

Kumaratunga's autonomy plan ran into difficulty in March when top Buddhist monks opposed any overtures to the Tamil guerrillas.

The four Mahanayakas, or top priests, had said in a letter to Kumaratunga that the government should crush the rebellion militarily and abandon the Norwegian peace initiative.

Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist country and the monks immensely influence the people and the government. Politicians touch the feet of the monks in reverence and follow their advice.

The monks' opposition to the autonomy plan had made Kumaratunga's task difficult.

A powerful Marxist group and a right-wing Sinhalese organization also rejected her autonomy plan.

In August, Kumaratunga withdrew from Parliament debate a proposed new constitution that would have given the country's regions more local control. She dissolved Parliament and called the elections, in what was seen as an attempt to get a majority that would be able to pass the new constitution.

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