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Last Updated: Friday, 7 January, 2005, 14:24 GMT
Sri Lanka peace chance fading

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Colombo

Tamil Tigers in tsunami clean up
The Tigers and soldiers work together - but amid distrust
It was hoped that out of such great suffering, some good could come.

The Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels were thrown together to bring aid to hundreds of thousands of tsunami victims.

But many believe the antagonists have blown the chance for reconciliation.

"It is already a lost opportunity. There is no trust between the leadership on both sides," says political scientist, Jayadeva Uyangoda.

The relief operations offered a chance to mend fences and kick start a peace process stalled since April 2003 when the Tigers walked out of talks.

But although the rebels and government are working together in specially formed district task forces in rebel-held territories in the north and east, there is already a lot of distrust.

The rebels have protested against the government's decision to send soldiers to manage relief camps in their territories, and have accused the government of discriminating against them in distributing aid.

'Nonsense'

"We are not satisfied," says rebel spokesman, Daya Master.

"Very limited relief is being sent to rebel-controlled areas. And we are not happy about the military being sent in to manage the camps. It will create a lot of problems.

Jehan Perera, analyst
[The tsunami] didn't wash away the political and military barriers between the two sides
Jehan Perera, analyst

"If the government is genuine about distributing relief equitably in future, we can build relations. But it's not happening."

The government counters the Tigers' arguments by saying it has sent in soldiers to manage all the country's 800 relief camps and that aid was being distributed equally.

"The charge of discrimination in distribution of relief is nonsense," says Sri Lankan presidential spokesman, Harim Peiris.

"The rebels have a political problem - they need an enemy to justify their existence. And that enemy is the government."

Furthering the rift, the 22 elected parliamentary members of the Tamil National Alliance - a group of Tamil parties supported by the rebels - have steadfastly refused to join an all-party committee set up to oversee relief operations.

The rebels want to receive aid directly from donors, something the Sri Lankan government will not allow.

It protested strongly to the Italian government this week when an Italian official distributed relief directly to rebels.

Concerted effort

Analyst Jehan Perera says this was the best chance of conflict resolution since the brokering of a ceasefire in February 2002 and a subsequent donor conference that brought pledges of $4.5bn for reconstruction and rehabilitation.

Tsunami damage in Mullaitivu, north Sri Lanka
Previous aid pledges could now be benefiting Sri Lankans

"That chance just fizzled out," says Mr Perera.

If there had been movement, many of the 800,000 plus Sri Lankans displaced by the civil war would be feeling the benefit of the huge aid pledges.

The peace chance brought by the tsunami, coming with what Mr Perera called the "goodwill and generosity of the world", would need a more concerted effort from both sides.

He says a sliver of opportunity still remains but it would take a "political decision at the highest level" to bring the two parties closer.

"The tsunami might not have differentiated between the various ethnicities when it struck," Mr Perera says. "But it didn't wash away the political and military barriers between the two sides."

After a bright start when both sides made gestures of reconciliation, there is no sign of the hoped-for breakthrough.

Presidential spokesman Harim Peiris could only say: "The relations between the government and rebels are no worse than before."


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