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Last Updated: Friday, 14 November, 2003, 17:47 GMT
Tigers fear for peace mediation
Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran
Tiger leader Prabhakaran met Norwegian envoys on Thursday
Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels have expressed concern for the peace process following Norway's decision to suspend its mediation.

Rebel spokesperson Daya Master said the group was worried because it was not clear when the mediation would resume.

Norway says the crisis between Sri Lanka's president and prime minister must first be resolved.

Oslo has played a key part in brokering talks between the government and rebels to end years of bloody civil war.

Differences between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe on how to conduct those talks have exploded into a full-blown crisis.

Last week, Mrs Kumaratunga sacked three ministers in Mr Wickramasinghe's cabinet and suspended parliament, accusing the prime minister of conceding too much to the rebels.

Need for clarity

On Thursday, Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen and special envoy Erik Solheim met rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in the rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi in the north-east.

We will go home and wait... We have no intention of abandoning the peace process, but there are limits to what we can do
Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen

On Friday, Mr Helgesen said there had to be a resolution of who was exercising power in the government for the peace process to continue.

"Until clarity is re-established, there is no space for further efforts by the Norwegian Government to assist the parties," he said.

Mr Helgesen said the ceasefire brokered in February last year would hold, but added: "We need to make clear that the ceasefire will be much more difficult to sustain in a political vacuum."

Mrs Kumaratunga said in a statement following Mr Helgesen's remarks that she wanted peace talks to continue.

The president, who has been deeply critical of the handling of the peace process, did not say whether she would take control of the talks from Mr Wickramasinghe.

But according to the AFP news agency, Mr Helgesen said that Mr Wickramasinghe, who revived peace attempts with the Tamil rebels in 2001, was effectively "out of the peace process".

Aid concerns

The envoy said there was now considerable concern among the international community about the process.

Troops in Colombo
Troops patrol Colombo's streets, amid doubts over the peace process
There are also fears about the fate of $4.5bn worth of international aid pledged for reconstruction which is tied to progress in the talks.

The talks have been suspended since April, when the rebels pulled out, claiming they were being sidelined.

Since last week's crisis erupted, neither side has talked of breaking the ceasefire.

The leader of the Tigers' political wing, S Thamilselvan, said he was seeking guarantees that the Sri Lankan Government would continue with its commitment to the accord.

The Norwegian mediators in turn passed on to the Tigers guarantees from both the president and the prime minister that they would abide by its terms.

The BBC's Frances Harrison in Colombo says that although the Tigers have been diplomatic in not taking sides in the political crisis, it is clear they fear the peace process is on hold until there is some clear resolution of the situation there.

We do not want war
S Thamilselvan
senior Tamil Tiger

Mrs Kumaratunga's actions last week were sparked by a new proposal from the Tigers for an interim power-sharing authority in the north-east which her advisors say cannot be the sole basis for future negotiations.

For his part, Mr Wickramasinghe says the peace process he initiated with the rebels has been badly damaged by the president's actions.

The president and prime minister have agreed to meet again to try to defuse the political stalemate after they held inconclusive talks on Wednesday.

More than 60,000 people have died in violence in Sri Lanka since the Tigers launched their fight for a homeland for minority Tamils in the island's north and east in 1983.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Adam Mynott
"Some fear the two year ceasefire is under threat"


Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen
"The peace process is now on hold"



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