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Friday, 21 July, 2000, 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK
Tamil secession ruled out
Sri Lankan army patrol
Looking for a negotiated end to the fighting
By Jeffrey Phillips in Washington

Sri Lanka has voiced concern at a proposal that the United States consider a negotiated Tamil secession as a way to end the island's conflict.

A spokesman for the Sri Lankan embassy in Washington said there could never be a negotiated secession for the Tamils, as the government would never enter into such discussions.

The suggestion came in a private letter to US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright from Congressman Ben Gilman, chairman of the House International Relations Committee.

The letter, which has been published on the internet, says the US Government should be more active in trying to end the war in Sri Lanka and consider the possibility of a negotiated secession of the largely Tamil north and east.

The document was written at the end of June, when Tamil Tiger separatists had surrounded a large number of Sri Lankan troops in the Jaffna peninsula and seemed poised to capture it.

No policy change

A spokesman for Mr Gilman acknowledged the letter appeared to call for a change in US policy - which is to support Sri Lanka's territorial integrity.

Signpost on the highway to Jaffna
Proposed secession of the north and east
State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said, however, there had been no change in American policy and that none was envisaged.

Mr Reeker said the US remained committed to a negotiated settlement of the war, and would oppose any autonomy that might emerge simply as a result of the fighting.

He also confirmed Washington's continuing support for efforts to mediate in the conflict by the Norwegian Government.

In 1997, the State Department designated the Tamil Tigers a terrorist organisation.

This means it is banned in the US, as is fund-raising and political lobbying on its behalf.

Moreover, the department recently announced a small increase in anti-terrorism aid to Sri Lanka, with the provision of post-blast forensic support - used to investigate the after-effects of bomb attacks.

Israel's help

Colombo's neighbours in the region, particularly India and Pakistan, are also likely to oppose secession for the Tamil areas.

While India has not provided arms to the Sri Lankan Government, it has lent considerable diplomatic support.

Pakistan has provided military assistance, as has Israel.

The Sri Lankan embassy spokesman said that Israel - as part of a bilateral security relationship - had provided bomber aircraft to relieve pressure on the trapped soldiers and turn the assault on Jaffna.

He also said that Israeli pilots had actually flown the aircraft.

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See also:

11 Jul 00 | South Asia
Heavy fighting in Jaffna
30 May 00 | South Asia
War costs for Sri Lanka
01 Jun 00 | South Asia
New weapons boost Sri Lankan army
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