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Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels set to respond on talks
( 2003-08-19 16:54) (Agencies)

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers, in a significant step to end two decades of ethnic fighting, will meet in Paris this week to map out a strategy for the next stage of talks with the government.

The Tigers, accused of undermining the island's 18-month-old peace drive, will discuss a response to a government proposal on a power-sharing body for the Tamil-dominated north and east of the country but some experts fear it could be hardline.

"They could pitch their demands very high," Rohan Edrisinha, a constitutional expert at the University of Colombo, said on Tuesday.

"There are worries that they will come up with an interim administration proposal very much beyond the existing constitutional framework," Edrisinha told Reuters.

The August 23-27 meeting is in Europe so officials from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), based in the jungle in northern Sri Lanka, can meet legal advisers in the Tamil diaspora.

The government says that once it gets a response, it expects to restart peace talks with the rebels in late September to end the fighting that has claimed 64,000 lives.

The Tigers suspended negotiations with the government in April, saying it had failed to deliver on promises made in six earlier rounds of talks, but a Norwegian-brokered cease-fire has mostly held.

Chief rebel negotiator Anton Balasingham is not expected to attend due to bad health, fueling speculation about his future role in the peace process.

London-based Balasingham is considered more flexible than other chiefs confined to the jungle for the past several decades, including LTTE political wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan, who will lead the Tigers' delegation.

The talks come as the rebels have been blamed for a string of political killings, which the State Department said was "undermining confidence in the peace process at this critical juncture."

The rebels have refused to follow a ruling by Nordic truce monitors that an LTTE camp violates the cease-fire signed in February 2002.

"By violating the cease-fire agreement...the LTTE is harming the credibility of the peace process and those who are involved in it," Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council wrote in an analysis of the peace process on Tuesday.

The truce is the longest since the separatist war started in 1983 and is considered the best chance yet to permanently end the fighting.

The Tigers have been fighting for a separate Tamil state in the north and east but now say they are willing to settle for a political solution.

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