European talks with Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels

The head of a European truce monitoring team met with a top Tamil Tiger leader Thursday to discuss a faltering cease-fire with the Sri Lanka's government. Hagrup Haukland met with S.P. Thamilselvan, chief of the separatist rebels' political wing, in Kilinochchi, a northern rebel-held town 275 kilometers (170 miles) north of the capital, Colombo. Thamilselvan refused media interviews after the meeting and Haukland spoke briefly and said tensions in the island nation's volatile northeast are easing. "Based on the information I have, not only from east but also north, tension in the area is not high. It's quite relaxed," Haukland told reporters.

Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran warned on Sunday that he would intensify the Tigers' struggle for an independent homeland in Sri Lanka's north and east next year if the minority Tamils' grievances are not addressed.

In his annual policy speech, Prabhakaran also invited the country's newly elected hardline president, Mahinda Rajapakse, to come up with a solution to the drawn-out civil conflict.

Rajapakse has said his government is committed to ending all violence in the country and resuming the stalled peace process. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam began fighting in 1983 to create a separate state for ethnic minority Tamils, accusing the majority Sinhalese of discrimination.

About 65,000 people were killed in the conflict before the 2002 cease-fire halted major offensives between the two sides. However, the cease-fire has come under increasing strain in recent months because of an upsurge in violence resulting in the deaths of dozens of soldiers, rebels and civilians. The military and the rebels both deny they are responsible for the turmoil, reports the AP. N.U.

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