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Prabhakaran roars and purrs

Colombo, Nov. 27 (Reuters): The reclusive head of Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers blasted the island’s political leaders today for endangering to efforts to end 20 years of civil war, but added the rebels were committed to peace.

“We are deeply committed to the peace process,” Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran said in his annual speech honouring rebel war dead, seen as the rebels’ most important policy statement. But he added the struggle between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe “severely endangered” peace efforts and called their feud a “chess game in which the Tamils are used as pawns”.

He also repeated his warning that if Tamil people continued to face oppression “we have no alternative other than to secede and form an independent state”.

The Heroes’ Day of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is their biggest celebration of the year, and the rebel-held north they claim as a Tamil homeland was festooned with Tiger flags and pictures of war dead to mark the day.

Kumaratunga sacked three ministers and suspended Parliament for two weeks earlier this month, accusing Wickremesinghe — who is elected separately and is from a rival party — of compromising security by being too soft on the rebels.

Fighting has been on hold since a ceasefire was signed in February last year, but a chance to get stalled peace talks back on track was scuttled by the feud, which caused Norway to suspend its role as peace broker.

In his speech broadcast on the clandestine Voice of Tigers radio, Prabhakaran denied Kumaratunga’s charge the rebels have been using the truce to build up their military strength.

“These false accusations are levelled against us to tarnish the credibility of our liberation organisation,” he said. “There is absolutely no truth in President Kumaratunga’s accusation that we are preparing for war by procuring weapons, recruiting on a large scale and strengthening our military machine.”

Prabhakaran also did not spare Wickremesinghe, whose government is built on its pro-peace mandate, saying six rounds of talks had failed to change conditions for Tamils in war-scarred areas or allow displaced people to return home.

“Ranil’s administration was only interested in projecting the peace process as an ideal model to attract aid and loans,” he said, adding talks had placed too much emphasis on human rights and guidelines and not enough on rebuilding after the war that killed 64,000.

Prabhakaran said the involvement of the international community in peace efforts — thought to be among the reasons the current bid is the island’s best chance yet for peace — had complicated talks.

“Some countries have even stipulated parameters within which the Tamil national question has to be resolved,” said Prabhakaran, who masterminded the group’s rise from rag-tag gang to ruthless and disciplined fighting force.

But despite the harsh words, Prabhakaran said draft proposals the rebels submitted for an interim administration did not constitute the foundation for a separate state, and that they were intended as a basis for negotiation, not a final agreement.

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