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Last Updated: Saturday, 4 February 2006, 07:55 GMT
President backs Sri Lanka unity
Sri Lankan soldier
Violence has increased in recent months prompting increased security
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse has said the country cannot be divided, in comments coming ahead of crucial talks with the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Mr Rajapakse was speaking at a ceremony to mark Sri Lanka's independence from colonial rule.

The Norway brokered talks are being held against a background of an increase in violence.

More than 64,000 people have died in two decades of fighting between the government and the rebels.

Speaking at a huge military parade in Colombo Mr Rajapakse said Sri Lanka belonged to all communities and that it could not be separated.

"By dividing this country we cannot solve this problem. It would worsen the situation," the Reuters news agency quotes him as saying.

But he said he hoped to build a permanent peace and insisted that the conflict should not pass into another generation.

Mr Rajapakse was elected with the help of hardline Sinhalese nationalist parties who oppose any concession to the Tiger rebels.

The BBC's Roland Buerk in Colombo says Mr Rajapakse moved to reassure hardline Sinhala nationalist parties who oppose any concession to the Tamil Tigers.

Peace talks

Mr Rajapakse's speech comes as the government and the Tiger rebels decide on dates for a meeting in Switzerland.

The talks were brokered in January by Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim after a spate of killings that stretched the 2002 ceasefire near to breaking point.

But the rebels have said the meeting is threatened by the alleged kidnapping of eight members of a Tamil charity which has close links with the Tamil Tigers.

The Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) said two other aid workers were subsequently released.

They blame paramilitary forces alleged to have links to the government for carrying out the alleged abductions.

But the government has said it has no knowledge of the kidnappings, although it has said it is investigating the matter.

It has urged the Tiger Rebels not to use the incidents as an excuse to cancel the talks.


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