No separate state but armed groups would be reined in - President Rajapaksa

[February 13, 2006 - 11.00 GMT]

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse on Monday (13) ruled out Tamil Tiger demands for a separate homeland in the island's north and east, but said he was willing to share power within a single country.

He said he would rein in armed groups - a central demand of the LTTE, ahead of the talks between the Government and the LTTE scheduled for February 22 & 23 in Geneva, Switzerland, but called for LTTE guarantees too, that civilians will not be harassed or killed.

Interviewed by Simon Gardner of Reuters,  Rajapaksa said "There's only one country, we can share power. Not a separate state. That idea must be taken off ... it is completely out."  He added "This is a small country, we can share power. Not a separate state." 

The upcoming talks in Geneva are expected to focus on the proper implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement  (CFA) signed four years ago.

The LTTE refers  in particular to implementing a clause in the CFA that stipulates the state must disarm paramilitaries, who the LTTE claims are attacking them. President Rajapaksa states the government has already done this with regard to the armed groups that existed when the CFA was signed and has therefore complied with the requirement fully.

Rajapakse, who has taken a moderate line since taking power in November, said he would meet the rebel demand to rein in armed groups. The Tigers accuse the military of helping a breakaway faction led by renegade commander called Karuna to mount attacks, which the government denies.

"If any group operates in our area, we will stop it. Any groups carrying arms will be brought under control, whether it is the so-called Karuna group or the LTTE," Rajapakse said at his official fortress-like residence, wearing his traditional Sinhalese dress of long white shirt, sarong and a red sash.

However the Sri Lankan President insisted there must be an LTTE guarantee too, that civilians are not being harassed or killed. His main priority is to see and end to the violence.

Rajapakse says he wants to solve the conflict within a unitary state rather than a federal one, and said he is looking at the United Kingdom's model of government and devolution.

"Take England ... it is unitary ... That shows that under a unitary government, you can devolve power," he added. "This will be a new Sri Lankan model ... Both sides will have to sit down and decide what they can give up and what we can give up."

Rajapakse said he would view the Geneva talks a success if both sides come to an agreement to halt escalating violence and killings.

Analysts say Rajapakse,  has shown great restraint in the face of a spate of attacks against the military by suspected rebels.

 "I am a peaceful man. I am not a warmonger," the 60-year-old father of three said. "For two months I was keeping (the military) on a tight leash."

He said one must never put a government, a leader, and corner him -- or push him to the wall. "If I am pushed to the wall ...," he said, suddenly stopping himself. "Let us hope that we will achieve peace."

Rajapakse said peace talks would take time. However, "one day there must be one country, one nation and one army," he added. "They can have a police force, yes, but there cannot be two armies, two air forces, two navies."











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Last Updated Date: February 13, 2006 - 11.00 GMT


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No separate state but armed groups would be reined in - President Rajapaksa