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SLUG: 2-313870 Sri Lanka rebels (L-only)
TITLE=SRI LANKA/REBELS (L-ONLY)
INTRO: Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels have expelled a prominent commander who broke away from the main rebel force and appointed a new man in his place, but the group appears to be facing a deepening crisis, with the commander reportedly refusing to relinquish control. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the dispute among the guerrillas has fueled concerns for the country's fragile peace process.
TEXT: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (L-T-T-E)said Saturday that the dissident rebel leader popularly known as Karuna is being expelled because he is a "traitor to the Tamil people."
The announcement came at a tightly-guarded press conference in the northern town of Kilinochchi, addressed by the leader of the L-T-T-E's political wing, S.P. Thamilselvan.
Mr. Thamiselvan said a new commander had been named for the eastern forces. However, the Associated Press later quoted an aide to Mr. Karuna as saying Mr. Karuna would not relinquish his command.
Earlier this week, Mr. Karuna said he would head his own faction in rebel-controlled areas in the eastern part of the country, and he sought a separate ceasefire agreement with the government.
Mr. Thamilselvan said rebel cadres in the east continue to remain loyal to L-T-T-E leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, whose own headquarters are in the north.
The L-T-T-E says the dispute will not disrupt the peace process or the two-year-old ceasefire. But a political analyst in Colombo, Kethesh Loganathan of the Center for Policy Alternatives, says the internal
revolt could set back efforts to negotiate a lasting peace between the guerrillas and the government.
/// LOGANATHAN ACT ///
The L-T-T-E is a key actor in the peace process, and any major instability within the L-T-T-E does create complications. The ceasefire agreement does not provide for any other actor to come into the scene.
/// END ACT ///
Until this revolt, Mr. Prabhakaran had led the L-T-T-E unchallenged since 1983, when the group launched an armed struggle for a separate homeland for Sri Lanka's minority Tamil community.
The fighting came to a halt with a ceasefire agreement two years ago, but peace negotiations were recently thrown into disarray by deep differences among the country's top political leaders on how much to concede to the rebels.
The rebels have continued to honor the ceasefire agreement despite the political turmoil in the capital, but they say it has placed peace negotiations in jeopardy.
It is feared that this new rivalry within the L-T-T-E could bring the peace process under further pressure. (Signed)
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