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Sri Lanka president meets Tamil political leaders

June 7, 2010

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka—Sri Lanka's president met ethnic Tamil leaders on Monday and promised a political solution to a protracted ethnic conflict for the first time since his forces ended the country's 25-year civil war last year.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa met Rajavarothayam Sambanthan, leader of Tamil National Alliance, and asked them to trust him to deliver a solution, the president's office said in a statement.

"Trust me, and together we can find a solution to the problems faced by all our people," it quoted Rajapaksa as saying. "I want a permanent solution. But, I will not bow down to terrorism, and what the terrorists wanted I will never give."

This is the first time the two sides have met to discuss a political solution since government troops defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels last year.

The rebels had been fighting against the government to create an independent state for ethnic minority Tamils. According to U.N. estimates between 80,000-100,000 people were killed in the violence, but human rights groups say the actual number could be much higher with thousands of civilians dying in the final months of the war.

The meeting also was significant because it took place ahead of Rajapaksa's visit to India amid repeated calls by Sri Lanka's giant neighbor to solve the problem by devolving power to the Tamil majority provinces.

Rajapaksa is scheduled to start a four-day visit to India on Tuesday and the issue of a political solution is likely to be raised. Sri Lankan ethnic conflict is a sensitive issue to India with 60 million Tamils living in its southern Tamil Nadu state.

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