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Sri Lanka anger at EU envoy talks

Protesters in Sri Lanka burn Patten in effigy.
Protesters in Sri Lanka burn Patten in effigy.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- European envoy Chris Patten is in Sri Lanka on a controversial bid to end two decades of war.

Patten, external relations commissioner for the European Union, plans to meet the leader of the rebel Tamil Tigers on Wednesday.

A crowd of about 2,000 nationalists greeted Patten on his arrival in Colombo Tuesday by burning his effigy and calling him a "White Tiger" for meeting Velupillai Prabhakaran, leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The demonstrators say international involvement in trying to end the conflict will lead to a separate state controlled by the rebels.

But Patten shrugged off the protests and insisted his mission was sound.

"Frankly, there wouldn't have been much point in me coming unless I was prepared to go and see the head of the Tamil Tigers and make clear in no uncertain terms what the international community expects of him and his colleagues in coming weeks and months," Patten told CNN.

"Nobody, repeat nobody, that I've met from the major political parties in Colombo have raised any question or doubt about my visit at all."

His trip follows a recent stand-off between Sri Lankas president and prime minister.

Patten will be the most senior political figure to meet Prabhakaran at his jungle hideout in the north of the island since Norway's foreign minister, Jan Petersen, met the reclusive leader in May.

Norway brokered a cease-fire that has mostly held since February 2002. However the European country put its peacemaking role on hold after a power struggle broke out between Sri Lanka's leaders.

The political crisis between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and rival Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has threatened to derail the peace process with the Tigers.

Patten met with President Chandrika Kumaratunga on Tuesday.
Patten met with President Chandrika Kumaratunga on Tuesday.

"Politicians in Colombo recognize that they do have to work together in order to provide a common position for dealing with the (Tamil Tigers)," Patten told Reuters.

The EU co-chaired a donor conference that raised $4.5 billion in June to rebuild Sri Lanka. Patten said the commitment showed that the international community believed it was possible to end the war, which has killed 64,000 people.

"The violence here has gone on for too long," he said. "Sri Lanka's spectacular economic potential has been shredded."

Patten added he had three messages for Prabhakaran.

"First of all I'll be making it absolutely clear ... the international community expects the Tamil Tigers to make it plain that they've now given up violence for good, that they accept the distinction between politics and the Kalashnikov.

"Secondly, I'll be seeking their commitment to sticking at the peace negotiations and seeing them through to a successful conclusion in the context of the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

"And thirdly, I'll be pressing them to keep their agreement under the cease-fire dealing with issues like purchase of arms, like recruitment of child suicide bombers and other disagreeable subjects."

Patten met President Kumaratunga on Tuesday and will meet Prime Minister Wickremesinghe on Wednesday.


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