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Peace Talks 'Top Priority,' Sri Lankan Says

April 05, 2004|From Associated Press

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka's president, whose political alliance won the most seats in Friday's parliamentary election, plans to make a resumption of peace talks with Tamil Tiger rebels her "top priority," her chief aide said Sunday.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga's United People's Freedom Alliance took 105 seats in the 225-member Parliament -- just eight short of an absolute majority -- and was in discussions with minor parties to join it to form a government.

"The top priority of the Freedom Alliance is to take steps to resume negotiations" with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Kumaratunga aide Harim Peiris said after the final results were announced.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's party won 82 seats, and he could in theory forge a coalition, though that seems highly unlikely.

What remains unclear is the direction the peace talks, on hold for the last year, may take.

While the Tigers have said they would negotiate with whichever party emerged on top, the president -- who was injured in a Tiger assassination attempt -- has made no secret of her distrust of them.

And with the Tigers divided since the March defection of a powerful guerrilla leader, any negotiations would be complicated. However, there was no indication that the Tigers plan to return to battle. A spokesman for the breakaway leader said his wing had no objections to the president's apparent victory.

"Her alliance has given promises in their manifesto that they will take forward the peace process, and this is good," said Varathan, a spokesman for the leader known as Karuna. Both use only one name.

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