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Wednesday, February 21, 2001

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LTTE no longer separatist: religious leaders

By Nirupama Subramanian

COLOMBO, FEB. 20. Religious leaders, who held talks with the LTTE in northern Sri Lanka on Monday, said the group was ready to give up its demand for a separate state in return for a negotiated and just peace.

Bishop Malcolm Ranjith, head of the Roman Catholic Church in the Ratnapura district of southern Sri Lanka, who was in the delegation of the Inter-Religious Alliance for National Unity (IRANU) which travelled to Madhu in Mannar district for the meeting, today said the LTTE appeared genuine in its desire to talk peace with the Government.

``The only message we are carrying from the LTTE is that they would be very willing to talk to the Government and seek a settlement to (the ethnic) question at the table,'' Bishop Ranjith told journalists.

``It was very clear they were no longer pursuing the line of separation. We got the feeling that they are now ready to give up their armed struggle in return for a just peace which assures the dignity and legitimate aspirations of the Tamil people.''

The IRANU delegation gained this impression after closely questioning the LTTE about its position on a separate state, he said.

The delegation included 18 Buddhist monks, three Bishops, a maulavi and members of the National Peace Council. The talks lasted for three hours with an assistant to the head of the political wing, Mr. Tamilchlevam, the leader of the youth wing and the leader of Mannar district, identified as Mr. Sudha, Mr. Pulithevan and Mr. George respectively.

Bishop Ranjith said they were confident that these cadres represented the views of the top leadership. A scheduled appointment with Mr. Tamilchelvam fell through as the delegation arrived late.

Now, IRANU has sought an appointment with the President, Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga, to brief her of its discussions with the LTTE.

He said the religious leaders told the LTTE cadres with whom they held talks that their leader, Mr. Velupillai Prabhakaran, should address the Sinhala people directly and explain to them that the outfit had no intention of dividing the country.

He said the three LTTE members who participated in the meeting did not explicitly commit themselves to the extension of the unilateral ceasefire, which is due to end on February 24, but gave ``signs of hope'' that this might happen.

But they wanted the Government to make some gesture of goodwill in return to indicate that it was sincere about talking to the LTTE, like allowing more food supplies into areas controlled by it in order to alleviate the sufferings of civilians.

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