Arafat offers to help end ethnic war in Sri Lanka

 

THE Palestinian leader, Mr Yasser Arafat, yesterday offered on a visit to Sri Lanka to mediate a settlement to the island's ethnic war which has killed, over 50,000 people.

Mr Arafat told a meeting in the capital Colombo after talks with the Sri Lankan President, Ms Chandrika Kumnratunga, that he was willing to help restore peace on the island where Tamil Tiger guerrillas are fighting for a separate state.

"I am under the disposal of the friendly people of Sri Lanka," said Mr Arafat. "We are now facing a new order. The order of the new order is peace. I offer all my effort and support for you to reach a settlement.

Asked if he was willing to be a mediator between the Colombo government and its warring partner, the Liberation Tigers (If Tamil Eelam, Mr Arafat said: "Yes. I am ready, I am offering it officially now.

Mr Arafat also held talks with the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ms Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who has strongly supported the PLO.

Mr Arafat arrived on the island yesterday after attending the Organisation of Islamic Conference summit in Pakistan. He is due to leave for Bangladesh today.

Several top Tamil guerrilla leaders were trained by the PLO despite appeals by the then leaders in Colombo. However, Sri Lanka had remained a strong backer of the PLO and Colombo accorded its full diplomatic recognition.

Mr Arafat, who, is the president of the Palestinian Authority, was given a 21 gun salute that is usually reserved for visiting heads of state. Colombo recognises him as the "president of the state of Palestine".

In 1994, the Sri Lankan government granted free accommodation to a PLO mission which was on the verge of closing due to economic reasons.

Meanwhile, an estimated 100 rebels from the naval unit of the Tamil Tigers were killed and at least 10 rebel boats were sunk when the navy returned fire in an attack off the island's north eastern coast early yesterday, according to official sources.

The ethnic Tamil rebels are fighting for a separate homeland in the island's north and east in a civil war now in its 14th year.