Sri Lanka peace process faces ‘most serious challenge’ ever

Sri Lanka peace process faces ‘most serious challenge’ ever

COLOMBO, Sept. 20 Kyodo

The main international players supporting Sri Lanka’s peace process have warned that it faces ”its most serious challenge” since a 2002 cease-fire brought a halt to fighting between the government and the Tamil Tiger rebels.

The warning was issued in a joint statement from the European Union, Japan, the United States, Britain and Norway released Tuesday by the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo.

The statement, following a meeting in New York of the co-chairs of the Tokyo Donor Conference of June 2003 that financially underwrote the peace process, rapped both the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sri Lanka government by implication for the current situation.

While it stopped short of directly accusing the Tigers of killing of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar last month, it strongly hinted that the LTTE was responsible in the view of the co-chairs.

The assassination was branded an ”unconscionable act of terrorism” that casts ”profound doubts on the commitment of those responsible to a peaceful and political resolution of the conflict.”

Immediately following this, the co-chairs demanded that the LTTE take ”immediate public steps to demonstrate their commitment to the peace process and their willingness to change.” They also called for ”an immediate end to political assassinations by the LTTE and an end to LTTE recruitment of child soldiers” as ”two such steps.”

The Sri Lanka government has also not come unscathed, with the co-chairs underscoring Colombo’s responsibility under the cease-fire agreement to disarm and relocate paramilitary groups active in the north and east of the country.

The reference is to a breakaway faction of the LTTE led by the Tiger’s former eastern commander best known by his nom-de-guerre, Colonel Karuna.

The Karuna group has been harassing the LTTE particularly in the east and the Tigers accuse the Sri Lanka military of facilitating their activity, a charge that Colombo vehemently denies.

The statement, one of the most comprehensive issued in recent times, said that the forthcoming presidential election would naturally promote vigorous debate on the best way to advance the peace process and in this context called on all parties to refrain from violence and from making statements that could undermine the peace process.

The co-chairs strongly advocated a solution based on a ”federal model within a united Sri Lanka” ensuring democracy, human rights and the legitimate rights of all ethnic groups.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse, in agreements he has entered with the Marxist People’s Liberation Front and the National Heritage Party of Buddhist monks, is committed to a ”unitary state” as opposed to a federal state.

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