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Friday, 7 February, 2003, 16:47 GMT
Blast fails to derail Sri Lanka talks
Tamil Tiger chief negotiator Anton Balasingham and chief government negotiator GL Peiris in Berlin
The teams agreed on speeding up aid funding
Sri Lanka's Government and Tamil Tiger rebels have made progress at peace talks in Berlin despite a serious cease-fire violation by the rebels.

Three rebels smuggling arms committed suicide hours before the talks began by blowing up their boat after truce monitors boarded it off Jaffna.

We do recognise there will be ups and downs. But this won't result in a breakdown

GL Peiris
Both sides in Berlin said the incident would not halt negotiations.

They said the fifth round of talks had seen agreement on rehabilitating child-soldiers and speeding up the signing of an aid agreement with the World Bank.

Unicef role

A statement issued in Berlin brushed off the Jaffna incident as an "apparent communication failure" between the three rebels on the boat and Tamil Tiger commanders.

The statement did not directly address the issue of arms smuggling.

Government chief negotiator GL Peiris said: "We do recognise there will be ups and downs. But this won't result in a breakdown because both sides realise there is no alternative to a negotiated political settlement."

The two sides have agreed to let the UN children's agency, Unicef, supervise a joint programme by the government and rebels to rehabilitate child soldiers.

Mr Peiris said he also expected an accord to be signed next week to start the operations of a World Bank-supervised fund that will handle international aid money.

Monitors unharmed

According to Scandinavian cease-fire monitors in Sri Lanka, the Jaffna explosion occurred after rebels set fire to the boat, forcing the peace monitors to jump clear.

Young Tamil Tiger fighters
The sides will work with Unicef on child recruitment
The monitors were unharmed.

They said the discovery of an anti-aircraft gun, grenades and ammunition on board the ship was a "clear violation" of the truce signed last February.

BBC correspondent in Berlin, Chris Morris, says the suicide blast comes at a difficult time and could fuel suspicions in Sri Lanka that the Tigers cannot be trusted.

The pressure for success in the peace talks increased on Friday with Sri Lanka's two main opposition parties joining in an anti-government alliance.

The People's Alliance of President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the Marxist People's Liberation Front both take a hard line on the Tamil Tigers.

Discontent

Human rights are high on the agenda in Berlin and a top international rights activist has been drafted in to boost the talks.

Tamil Tiger soldier
A ceasefire has been in force for a year
But, with both sides having perpetrated atrocities during this 20-year conflict, there has been a reluctance so far to look back at past wrongdoings for fear they could cause acrimony and upset the peace process.

Instead, the emphasis has been on securing human rights in the future.

Donor funds are urgently needed to rebuild the north of the country, much of which lies in ruins.

However, there is a danger that what little international attention there is on Sri Lanka will be diverted to the Iraq crisis, together with promises of help.

Already, people living in the conflict areas are wondering when their lives will improve.

A year after the cease-fire little has been done.

Implementing what has been agreed at the negotiating table is proving more difficult than both sides thought and the delay in carrying out much promised development work is causing discontent.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Chris Morris reports from Berlin
"This was never going to be easy"

Peace efforts

Background

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