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Wednesday, August 11, 1999 Published at 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK

World: South Asia

Sri Lanka: Searching for a solution

The war has so far defied a military solution

By Colombo correspondent Susannah Price

President Chandrika Kumaratunga's government came to power in August 1994 on a wave of enthusiasm for her promise of peace.

Five years later the war between the government and Tamil Tigers continues with ever-increasing casualties.

There are few signs of any breakthrough.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has provided a means of dialogue many times - especially following heavy fighting around Kilinochchi last year when they arranged for the transfer of bodies to either side.

However, their role appears to be limited to such practical matters.

Twin track approach

The government is attempting a twin track approach using fighting to try to push the Tigers to the negotiating table.

[ image: Army has not forced the Tigers closer to talks]
Army has not forced the Tigers closer to talks
While the army has made considerable gains over the past few months, it does not appear to have forced the Tigers any closer to talks.

If the Tigers have been weakened, this has only led them to carry out selective attacks on targets such as the moderate Tamil MP Neelan Tiruchelvam killed by a suicide bomber in July this year.

It all seemed more hopeful five years ago when both sides said they were ready for unconditional talks.

The first round in October 1994 looked at easing the economic embargo in the northern Jaffna peninsula.

However, just before the second round, a bomb explosion killed the opposition presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake.

[ image: President Kumaratunga:  Came to power pledging peace]
President Kumaratunga: Came to power pledging peace
After winning the presidential election in November that year by a substantial margin, Chandrika Kumaratunga pledged the search for peace would continue.

In January, her government reluctantly agreed to a truce, but stalemate followed and the Tigers made increasing demands including the dismantling of the key Pooneryn army camp.

President Kumaratunga said she would consider the demands, but the Tigers accused her government of dragging its feet and in April 1995 two naval gunboats were attacked by the Tigers in the eastern town of Trincomalee.

The last peace process came to an abrupt end.

Repeated attempts at peace

The first cease-fire in the conflict took place ten years earlier following a series of bloody massacres including one at the holy Buddhist site of Anuradhapura.

This was followed by two rounds of abortive discussions in Thimpu, Bhutan, the first face-to-face meetings between the two sides, which took place under the auspices of the Indian Government.

Another attempt to find a solution the following year in the southern Indian city of Bangalore also failed as had an All Party Conference in 1984.

The Indo-Sri Lankan accord of July 1987 was a more serious effort.

India had been involved in training the fledgling Tamil militant groups - seeing this as a way to control them and now found itself mediating.

Four Tamil groups put aside their struggle for a separate state and agreed to the accord with its proposals for devolution and constitutional amendments.

The Tigers' leader Velupillai Prabakharan reluctantly agreed to the accord after meeting the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi.

But the Tigers were never committed to it.

India sends in troops

A few months later, the Indian Peacekeeping Force - which came across to disarm the rebels and keep the peace in the north east - were fighting to take Jaffna from the Tigers.

More than 1,000 Indian soldiers were killed before they finally left Sri Lanka in March 1990 and the Tigers took control of the areas they vacated.

The Tigers and government were united in their opposition to the Indian army and this helped bring about discussions behind closed doors between President Premadasa's government and the Tigers in Colombo from May 1989.

During this time, the Tigers even registered as a political party, but it objected to the government talking to other Tamil parties and accused it of rearming and in June 1990 fighting broke out again.

The prospects for further peace talks remain dim - so much mistrust has been built up over the years.

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