Sri Lanka's new president plans new peace talks with Tamil rebels

Sri Lanka's newly elected president on Friday said he would resume peace talks with Tamil rebels in an effort to end decades of ethnic conflict in the island nation. "We will give high priority to introducing a new peace process that will ensure the country's unity and national security is preserved," President Mahinda Rajapakse told Parliament as he opened his first session as president.

"My government expresses its willingness to resume peace talks with the LTTE," Rajapakse said, referring to Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels, who have fought for nearly 20 years to create a separate state for ethnic minority Tamils.

Rajapakse, who took a hard-line against the rebels during the recent presidential campaign, told Parliament he rejected an agreement by his predecessor Chandrika Kumaratunga to share with the Tigers tsunami foreign aid for rebuilding areas in the Tamil-majority northeast.

Instead, he proposed a body directly under his control to rebuild the entire coastal areas hit by the waves, which killed more than 31,000 Sri Lankans.

Rajapakse said he will overhaul a 2002 Norway-brokered cease-fire agreement and replace it with a "transparent peace process." In the past, he has complained about the number of backdoor deals between the government and the rebels during peace negotiations.

He also told Parliament he wants the cease-fire agreement to include clauses to prevent terrorist acts and the recruitment of child soldiers.

Rajapakse added he wants new provisions for a "transparent monitoring mechanism." He has previously complained about the Nordic team that currently observes the Sri Lankan cease-fire.

He said that the help of United Nations, neighbor India and other members of international community will be sought in solving the conflict, but did not say anything about Norway's future as Sri Lanka's peace broker.

Rajapakse has rejected rebel claims of a traditional Tamil homeland in the country's northeast, but told Parliament he was agreeable to "maximum devolution of power" under a "unitary" structure of state, reports the AP. I.L.

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