Foreign Minister: Sri Lanka Will Stay At War With Tigers

Sri Lanka is determined to seek a solution to its conflict with the separatist Tamil Tigers but sees no alternative to war unless the rebels change their stance on peace talks, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar said.

"They have no interest in peace talks," Kadirgamar told Reuters in Bangkok.

""They believe that they can win a separate state by force of arms. I think that's a terrible mistake on their part, but that seems to be their view," he said in an interview during a stopover on his journey home from a visit to Japan.

"Any pretense that they might make of interest in peace talks is precisely that a pretense."

The conflict between Sri Lanka's government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has dragged on since 1983 and claimed more than 61,000 lives.

An election fought on the competing peace strategies of the People's Alliance (PA) of President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the main opposition United National Party returned a hung parliament this month, with the PA cobbling together a slender parliamentary majority.

The president has been trying to push through a new constitution devolving power to the regions in a bid to placate separatist Tamils, but this requires the support of two-thirds of legislators.

Kadirgamar said it was possible the opposition could be persuaded to support the new constitution.

"The president has said publicly that she remains of the view that she must pursue this new constitution, and it's always possible that you can have a new configuration of forces now that the election is over and people know where they stand," he said.

"When an election is held, the air is cleared to some extent, everybody takes stock of their positions, and you have a fair idea of what is possible and what is not possible."

Peace Initiative Not Scrapped

Kadirgamar denied that the election result was a blow to hopes of peace.

"I think the contrary is true. The hawkish parties were completely routed," he said, adding that he believed voters had given their backing to the government's strategy.

"They have clearly indicated that they want this government to go on, and I think one of the grounds on which we won the election was our approach to the ethnic question."

Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake said ahead of the election that the government would hold no more talks with the rebels under a Norwegian-brokered peace initiative.

But Kadirgamar said the Norwegian initiative had not been scrapped and the government was still willing to take part.

"During the election campaign, as you'll understand in any democracy, campaign rhetoric is one thing but reality is another thing," he said. "We have made it very clear that we remain engaged in the process but at the moment not much is happening."

He blamed the Tigers for the lack of progress in peace talks.

"The whole problem at the moment is that the Tamil Tigers are showing a total unwillingness to engage in talks at the moment. You can't hold talks on your own," he said.

"We basically remain willing to consider any solution short of a separate state, which is completely out of the question. But we are not going to be fooled by the charade and postures that the Tamil Tigers adopt from time to time to show that they are interested in peace when we know very well that they are not."

He said if the Tigers wanted to talk, they would have to prove they were serious about peace.

"We would wish to have some demonstration of bona fides on their part that they are really serious about talks, because we have had very bad experiences with them," Kadirgamar said.

"They have said they were talking about peace but in fact they were regrouping, re-arming and getting ready for a further