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New Sri Lanka Premier Promises Talks with Tamil Rebels

Associated Press

Determined to end a brutal ethnic war, Sri Lanka’s new prime minister created a Ministry of Ethnic Affairs on Friday and promised talks with separatists and minority leaders.

“We have stretched our hand of friendship and hope that the Tamil Tigers . . . will take it and come for discussion with us and re-enter the democratic process,” Chandrika Kumaratunga said.

Kumaratunga was named prime minister Thursday. Her top priority is ending the 11-year guerrilla war that has left 34,000 people dead and forced the government to spend 20% of its annual budget on defense.

Rebels are demanding a Tamil homeland in the Indian Ocean republic, where Sinhalese Buddhists are a majority and Hindu Tamils 7% of the 17 million population.

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To make peace, Kumaratunga will have to negotiate with the defeated United National Party. Its leader, Dingiri Banda Wijetunga, is the country’s president and heads the Defense Ministry.


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