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Pullout Tigers warn of war

Kilinochchi (Sri Lanka), April 20 (Reuters): Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels pulled out of peace talks indefinitely today, saying the island was heading for war and dashing hopes that a Norwegian peace mission could stem rising violence.

About 80 people have been killed in the past two weeks in a series of suspected Tiger attacks, ethnic riots and unsolved murders which the two sides blame on each other.

Talks due to take place in Switzerland next week had been seen as the best chance to reduce tension, but the LTTE said today they would not attend until “normality” returned.

“We are not in a position to attend the Geneva talks on the currently decided dates under the present environment,” head of the LTTE political wing S.P. Thamilselvan said. “It is the government that is creating a war-like situation and pushing us towards war.”

The Tigers’ two-decade fight for a separate Tamil homeland has already killed more than 64,000 on both sides and, while the island’s majority Sinhalese south was largely spared, the Tamil-dominated north and east was left in ruins.

With the Geneva meeting already postponed once by the Tigers last week, Norway, which brokered a 2002 ceasefire, sent envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer to try to save the talks.

But he failed to secure meetings either with President Mahinda Rajapakse or reclusive Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, and some diplomats increasingly say that neither side is really serious about moving the peace process forward.

The Tigers had already said they were provisionally pulling out of the talks due to problems in transporting eastern rebel leaders to a pre-talks meeting. The government eventually offered private helicopters to transport rebel commanders, but Thamilselvan said this too was unacceptable.

He again denied that the rebels were behind recent attacks on the military ' something few believe ' and said killings of Tamil civilians and ethnic riots in the northeast must also stop before talks could take place.

“It is planned, pre-meditated ethnic cleansing by the government,” he said.

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