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Saturday, October 23, 1999 Published at 16:04 GMT 17:04 UK

World: South Asia

Sri Lankan president vows peace

Chandrika Kumaratunga vows to end conflict with the Tamil Tigers

By Susannah Price in Colombo

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga has told the BBC she is confident about being able to end the 16-year-old civil war if she wins re-election.

Mrs Kumaratunga said in her first interview since announcing early elections earlier this week that she believes no long-term peace is possible without talking to the Tamil Tigers.

She said, if re-elected, she would implement her plan for devolution in the North and East, which she believed would be a turning-point in the war.

Five years ago, she swept to victory promising to bring an end to the bloodshed.

Chandrika Kumaratunga: 'There is a democratic way of circumventing this one obstacle'.
Her plan was to erode the support for the guerrillas among the minority Tamil population by giving more autonomy.

She is now standing for re-election on the very same platform.

She blames the opposition United National Party for not providing the necessary support for the two thirds majority to pass a devolution plan in parliament during her first term in office.

President Kumaratunga said, if re-elected, she would push through her package and change the constitution using legal, but as yet unspecified, methods.

'Tigers refused to talk'

[ image: The civil war has produced more than 500,000 refugees]
The civil war has produced more than 500,000 refugees
"We thought, after long discussions within our party and our government, that we will go to the people early and ask for a mandate again.

"On one hand, we are asking them to tell us whether they were satisfied with the way we have governed, and, secondly, for a mandate to be able to end this terrible war and bring peace to the country.

"And if they do, there is a democratic way of circumventing this one obstacle in the constitution and bringing this in as law."

The president said it was the Tigers, and not her government, who refused to negotiate on peace and expressed her hope that if the package was brought in, the Tigers might feel compelled to talk.

However, many Tamils say the package is too little, too late and point out that the Tigers are likely to continue fighting for their independent state.

[ image: Ranil Wickremasinghe of the Opposition UNP.]
Ranil Wickremasinghe of the Opposition UNP.
Most analysts believe that President Kumaratunga will win the poll, to be held in December or January, because she's personally more popular than her main rival, Ranil Wickremasinghe, of the opposition UNP.

But there's widespread scepticism about her promise to deliver peace within months of her re-election.

If she wins, she won't have long to deliver on her pledge as general elections will be held next year and her government's record will come under close scrutiny.

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