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Minister opts out of talks till Tigers come clean

Colombo, April 28 (Reuters): Sri Lanka’s troubled peace process took a step backwards today after a minister refused to take further part in suspended talks because the Tamil Tigers had breached his trust, a source close to the negotiator said.

Economic reforms minister Milinda Moragoda would stay away until the Tamil Tigers set the record straight for implying he had promised that the rebels would be able to attend a meeting in Washington earlier this month, the source said.

Last week, the LTTE suspended peace talks that began in September because it was not invited to the meeting to plan a donors’ conference in Tokyo in June and because of slow reconstruction of war-hit Tamil areas.

“The minister read with dismay comments by LTTE political wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan making suggestions that he had promised to get the LTTE to Washington,” the source said.

“That is not true. He feels he made it clear to them that they would not be going to Washington because the US says they are a banned group,” he said.

“He is very angry about that and he said that until the LTTE puts the record straight he will play no further role in the peace talks,” the source said.

That did not mean Moragoda was withdrawing entirely from the process, he added.

“He made no such promise and therefore there is clearly a breach of trust,” the source said of Moragoda, one of four people representing the government in talks with the Tigers.

The Sunday Leader newspaper quoted Thamilselvan as saying Moragoda had said at the last round of peace talks that he would“make all endeavours to ensure” that LTTE chief negotiator Anton Balasingham would be able to attend the April 14 meeting.

”That was a promise given by Milinda Moragoda,” the newspaper quoted Thamilselvan as saying.

The government and Norwegian peace mediators have been scrambling to get the Tigers back to the negotiating table, and the government was expected to reply soon to a rebel letter outlining the reasons the Tigers pulled out of the talks.

The current setback is the biggest threat yet to a peace bid to end the war that has killed 64,000 people and comes as the two sides were to have sat down on Tuesday for a seventh round of talks since a ceasefire was signed in February 2002.

The government was hoping to attract significant aid at the donors' conference to help rebuild war-hit areas of the island.

The Tigers, who accuse the majority Sinhalese population of discriminating against Tamils, launched an armed campaign for a separate state in the island's north and east in 1983.

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