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Tigers pledge not to attack troops

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Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers will not attack government forces provided the military ceases violence against Tamil civilians, a LTTE chief negotiator Anton Balasingham said Wednesday last week as the organisation agreed to Norwegian peace talks in Switzerland.

“There has been some LTTE military action, but most of these incidents are by the peoples’ militias,” Balasingham told Reuters shortly after the Tigers dropped their refusal to go anywhere but Norway -- the one place the government would not go.

“For our part, we will cease all action against government forces,” he said in a sitting room in Kilinochchi, the de facto LTTE capital, but warned that this was “conditional on the fact that government forces and paramilitary forces cease acts of violence against Tamil civilians.”

The Tigers had previously denied involvement in attacks on government forces that has stretched a 2002 truce to its limit. Analysts say the Tigers had been attacking government forces to provoke an over-reaction in the hope of stirring up international outcry over army abuses.

The Tigers have complained breakaway faction the Karuna group were attacking them in the east and acting as government paramilitaries. International truce monitors said security forces were at best turning a blind eye.

The Tigers had only agreed to drop their demand for talks in Oslo during Wednesday’s discussions with Norwegian peace broker Erik Solheim, architect of the 2002 truce, Balasingham said.

Some of President Mahinda Rajapakse’s allies had said Norway was too soft on the Tigers.

“What is crucial is not what has happened in the past, Balasingham said. “What is crucial is to create a congenial environment so that both parties can sit together and negotiate. The resumption of talks is a very, very strong step that will bring an end to the present tension and bring an end to the fear of war.”

Credit for the breakthrough should go to LTTE head Velupillai Pirapaharan, said Balasingham, who was flown in specially from his London home for the talks. He said they were giving Rajapakse time to rein in abuses - abuses the army denies.

When Rajapakse took office in November after a Tiger vote boycott destroyed the chances of his more conciliatory opponent, he said he wanted to redraw the ceasefire to prevent “terrorist acts”.

Both sides must agree for the agreement to be altered, and Balasingham said this was out of the question. The Tigers expected the government to put up political proposals for a long term solution, he said, and the Tigers would negotiate if these were felt to be fair.

“At the initial stages, talks will be centred on the terms and conditions of the ceasefire agreement,” Balasingham said. “There is no question of amending the agreement, we will only talk of its smooth implementation.”

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