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Tuesday, November 16, 1999 Published at 16:48 GMT

World: South Asia

Analysis: little progress towards peace

Voting will be held next month under tight security

By Jannat Jalil in Colombo

Chandrika Kumaratunga won the last presidential election five years ago, partly because of her promise to bring peace to Sri Lanka.

But a few months after her victory, peace talks between the government and the Tigers collapsed and hostilities resumed.

Conflict in Sri Lanka
  • An unwinnable war?
  • Timeline of conflict
  • Leading the Tigers
  • The ethnic divide
  • Since then President Kumaratunga has pursued an aggressive military campaign against the Tigers. At the same time, she has tried to push a devolution package through parliament which would allow the minority Tamil community to administer their own region.

    Both measures have failed to produce much success.

    The Tigers recently managed - in a few days of intense fighting - to recapture territory it had taken the army nearly two years to win.

    And the devolution plan has so far failed to win the necessary two-thirds majority in parliament because of the opposition of Mr Wickremesinghe's United National Party.

    Opposition plans

    Mr Wickremesinghe says he has his own devolution plans which if he becomes president he will ask the opposition to support.

    [ image: Troops have been rushed to contain the Tiger offensive]
    Troops have been rushed to contain the Tiger offensive
    He has said that if he comes to power he will start talks with the Tamil Tigers without any conditions to try to end the conflict.

    President Kumaratunga has said she has tried to hold talks with the Tigers in the past two years and failed.

    She also says she is willing to initiate discussions with the Tigers as soon as is practically possible - a statement that's seen more as an election promise than a concrete plan.

    So in essence, the two main presidential contenders seem to be proposing similar peace plans but are refusing to support each other's proposals.

    Blaming each other

    President Kumaratunga has made political capital of the fact that the UNP was in power for 17 years before her own party came to power, saying it failed during that time to find a solution to the ethnic conflict.

    [ image: President Kumaratunga hoped to push through a devolution package]
    President Kumaratunga hoped to push through a devolution package
    Her supporters say she should be given another term as she has had only five years to tackle the issue.

    Mr Wickremesinghe is trying to blame the government for the army's recent setbacks against the Tigers, saying that the government's strategy of war-for-peace has failed.

    But analysts say that for any prospect of peace to be a real and lasting one, the Tigers themselves will have to be genuinely involved.

    However, after decades of fighting in which tens of thousands have been killed, it seems unlikely that the Tamil Tigers will agree to accept any of the offers of devolution it has received to date from either of the main political parties.

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