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Last Updated: Monday, 12 July, 2004, 17:35 GMT 18:35 UK
Colombo denies aiding Tiger rebel
Sri Lankan Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera
The government says it is prepared to give the Tamil Tigers airtime
The Sri Lankan government has denied that it has provided a breakaway Tamil Tiger commander with state media facilities in order to wage war.

The denial follows strong Tamil Tiger criticism of an interview with Colonel Karuna broadcast on state radio.

The rebels recently warned of a "return to war" and said the "lowest ebb" in the peace process had been reached.

In the interview, the colonel denied being behind violence in the east and said he wanted to enter politics.

Furious reaction

The Sri Lankan Media Minister, Mangala Samaraweera, told the BBC Sinhala service that the government did not want to do anything that would jeopardise its plans to restart peace negotiations.

The minister said that while he was prepared to ask whether Colonel Karuna had been given undue prominence on the state-run Sri Lankan Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), it was prepared to give the same amount of airtime to the Tamil Tigers.

Tamil Tigers
The Tigers warn that Sri Lanka is drifting back to war

The Tamil Tigers have reacted furiously to Colonel Karuna's interview, which was broadcast on SLBC after being recorded in London by a Tamil group opposed to them. Colonel Karuna was also interviewed separately by the BBC.

"Most certainly we can define the current status as the lowest ebb in the entire process ... because of various actions of the government and the forces," the leader of the Tigers' political wing SP Thamilselvan said.

Contacts flaunted

Mr Thamilselvan warned that the country was "drifting back to war," while the organisation's eastern political wing leader E Kousalyan said in a statement that the state had provided facilities to Colonel Karuna "with the obvious aim of destroying the mutual goodwill on which the ceasefire is based."

We are ready to face the war that the Sri Lankan state has decided to thrust on us
Tamil Tiger's eastern political wing leader E Kousalyan

"The truth is out today beyond any doubt that the Sri Lankan state is providing him with state facilities to wage a proxy war of black propaganda against the Tamil Tigers and to carry out terrorist attacks with the assistance Sri Lankan military intelligence to derail the ceasefire," he said.

The BBC correspondent in Colombo says that there is no sense of panic in southern Sri Lanka, despite the suicide bombing in the heart of the capital last week

Hotel shares went up the day after the bombing and within 24 hours the glass windows in the bombed police station were repaired, and everything was back to normal.

Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran
The Tigers say a war of "black propaganda" is being waged against them

However, President Kumaratunga has expressed concern over last week's suicide bombing and incidents of violence in the east - which, it is believed, is being waged between supporters of Colonel Karuna's faction and the mainstream Tamil Tigers.

Our correspondent says the SLBC interview with Colonel Karuna indicates that there could be considerable support for him in the government, because the station is normally heavily controlled.

She says that while a Tamil government minister, Douglas Devenanda, flaunts his contacts with Colonel Karuna to the media, the military and government say they have no idea where is.

It is clear is that this approach is antagonising the Tigers, she says, and there is no sign yet of attempts by the government to defuse the tension.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Nick Bryant
"This has long been a troubled paradise"



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