Prabakaran's conviction, an ominous sign?

NAKORN PATHOM (THAILAND) OCT. 31. The sentencing of the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, V. Prabakaran, to 200 years of rigorous imprisonment by a Sri Lankan court, has come as an ominous sign at the commencement of the second round of talks between the rebels and Colombo here.

The sentence, awarded to Mr. Prabakaran for allegedly ordering the bombing of Sri Lanka's Central Bank in Colombo in 1996 — in which 76 persons were killed — is reminiscent of the first-ever talks between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil militant groups, held in Thimpu in 1985, with India playing the mediator. The talks broke down a day after the Sri Lankan Army launched an offensive in northern Sri Lanka. As a protest against the killing of Tamil civilians, all the Tamil groups, including the LTTE, pulled out of the talks.

The ongoing talks, facilitated by Norway, is the second attempt of external assistance at resolving the island's ethnic crisis and is also the second time that the two parties are holding talks outside Sri Lanka.

The head of Colombo's delegation and Sri Lankan Constitutional Affairs Minister, G. L. Peiris, however, was confident that the judgment would not affect the talks. "We do not see how the court decision will affect the peace talks,'' he told presspersons at the end of the talks today.

There has been no comment from the LTTE yet. Mr. Prabakaran, who faces several charges in Sri Lanka, is wanted in India for the assassination of the former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi.

The Interpol has also issued an international alert for his arrest.

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