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Sri Lanka, Rebels Agree to Share Foreign Tsunami Aid

June 25, 2005|From Associated Press

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka's government signed an agreement Friday with separatist rebels to share international tsunami aid, saying the move could help bring the country's two-decade civil war to an end. Opponents warned that it threatened national security.

"This is the first step toward resuming peace talks," Trade and Commerce Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle said. "It creates the right environment."

The deal was struck after weeks of demonstrations. On Friday, hundreds of Marxists marched near Parliament, demanding that the plan be scrapped. Police fired tear gas, and two protesters were injured.

Norwegian mediators facilitated the pact, signed by government officials and Tamil Tiger rebels in the capital, Colombo, and then in the insurgent-controlled town of Kilinochchi.

This is the first time in two decades of war that both sides have agreed to cooperate in a political and administrative structure, said Norway's foreign minister, Jan Petersen.

The pact paves the way for the government and rebels to share $3 billion in foreign tsunami aid, ensuring that the Tamil-dominated north and east get a fair share.

Sri Lanka has promoted the plan as an opportunity for the government to forge peace with the guerrillas as the country recovers from the Dec. 26 tsunami, which struck both government- and rebel-held areas and killed at least 31,000 people in the island nation.

The rebels say reconstruction efforts have bypassed areas under their control, and they have demanded more say in how Sri Lanka spends donations.

A 2002 Norway-brokered cease-fire halted the civil war, which had claimed nearly 65,000 lives. Subsequent peace talks have been deadlocked over rebel demands for wide autonomy.

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