Colombo, May 8 (Reuters): The Sri Lankan government expressed confidence today that talks with Tamil Tigers could be restarted quickly, but despite stepped-up international efforts the rebels showed no sign of returning to negotiations.
The government said it was taking practical measures to rebuild war-hit Tamil areas after the LTTE suspended peace talks last month, saying not enough was being done to improve living conditions.
“The government, for its part, is prepared to improve its mechanisms for delivery (of aid),” spokesman G.L. Peiris said. “We have every expectation that once some practical matters are sorted out, it will be possible to get it all started again.”
The peace bid is seen as Sri Lanka’s best chance — after four previous peace drives ended in renewed fighting — to end a war that has killed 64,000 people, displaced more than one million and throttled the island’s economy.
Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim held talks with chief rebel negotiator Anton Balasingham today to try to restart the process to end 20 years of war over a separate state for Tamils in the north and east.
But the Tigers reiterated statements made to a Japanese envoy on Wednesday that the government had taken no tangible action on rehabilitation or resettling displaced people.
The rebels have given no indication they are prepared to resume talks or attend a June aid conference in Tokyo, where donors are expected to pledge billions of dollars in aid.
The Tigers said the most pressing issue was the plight of those displaced by the war, who are prevented from returning to their homes in the Tamil heartland of Jaffna because of the presence of government troops.
”The matter has now become, quite rightly, a measure of the efficacy of the peace process itself,” the pro-rebel Tamil Guardian said in an editorial, calling it a“barometer of the government's sincerity.”
The government has said it will only reduce troop numbers when the security situation improves.