New Sri Lanka Premier Promises Talks with Tamil Rebels
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.
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.