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SRI LANKA: Churches welcome peace talks in Geneva

By Anto Akkara
[Ecumenical News International] 

Church leaders in Sri Lanka say they hope talks between the government and Tamil rebels taking place in Geneva will help restart a stalled peace process in the island nation.
"We are happy that contrary to general expectations, both parties are ready for talks," the Rev. Kingsley Perera, chairperson of the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka, told Ecumenical News International from Colombo. "This itself is an achievement."

The two sides met in Switzerland in February but since then there has been an upsurge in fighting, despite a fragile Norwegian-brokered cease-fire in force since 2002. The renewed violence has claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians and has displaced many thousands more.

Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini was to open the two days of talks in Geneva on October 28 alongside Norway's minister for international development, Erik Solheim, the Swissinfo news service reported.

The rebel Liberation Tigers of Talim Eelam are seeking autonomy for Tamil-majority areas in the predominantly Buddhist island nation of mainly Sinhalese speakers.

"Bringing them to together at the same table face to face at this moment is a great achievement," said Rohan Edrisinha, an Anglican and director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, a Sri Lankan non-governmental group that promotes conflict resolution.

Edrisinha, a former chairperson of the National Christian Council's justice and peace commission, said the international community had exerted "tremendous pressure on both groups to return to the negotiating table."

Earlier in October, a Tamil suicide bomber drove a truck full of explosives into a military convoy killing 115 security personnel, while Sri Lanka's military has been conducting land, sea and air operations against rebel positions.

A two-decade civil war prior to the 2002 cease-fire claimed nearly 65,000 lives and displaced more than 1.8 million people.