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Chandrika supports peace talks with Tigers

Colombo, Nov. 12 (Reuters): Sri Lanka’s President pledged her support for the peace process with Tamil Tiger rebels today, calling the 19-year ethnic war the “bane of our country” in an address to mark her eighth anniversary in office.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga, whose opposition People's Alliance has been feuding with the government over the peace bid, sounded a conciliatory note, saying she was satisfied with the progress of talks.

“Measures adopted in the last one year to reduce tension between the antagonists seem to progress satisfactorily,” she said in an address following a ceremony with a marching band and honour guard that stopped traffic on Colombo's busiest street.

Kumaratunga was elected separately from Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's government, and has accused him of conceding too much to the LTTE, as the two sides try to end the conflict that has killed more than 64,000 people over the past two decades.

The rebels, who agreed to a Norwegian-brokered ceasefire with the government in February, have expressed fears Kumaratunga, who has the power to sack the government, could derail the peace process if she was unhappy with the talks.

But in today’s speech she proposed fresh ideas for the talks, including a committee on “ethnic reconciliation and sustainable peace” comprising representatives from all political parties, the rebels and non-governmental organisations.

“The major democratic political forces must agree on a common plan of action and participate actively in its implementation,” she said after the ceremony.

Kumaratunga also extended an olive branch to the government after months of tension over government attempts to curb her powers, which at one stage nearly led to a snap election.

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