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Sri Lanka's Tamil Rebels Want to Participate in Democratic Politics - 2002-11-03


Sri Lanka's Tamil rebels say they want to enter mainstream democratic politics, after 19 years of civil war. The surprise announcement follows the second-round of peace talks between the rebels and Sri Lanka's government in Thailand.

Following four days of Norwegian-mediated talks in Thailand, the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels said they accomplished more than expected.

Both sides agreed to create three joint committees to deal with major issues aimed at ending the conflict that has killed nearly 65,000 people and devastated much of the country.

A political committee will be headed by chief government negotiator, GL Pieris, and top Tamil negotiator, Anton Balasingham. It will work on possible power-sharing arrangements.

The second committee will work out military de-escalation and de-mining.

The third committee will concentrate on returning refugees and the rehabilitation of the war-torn north and east parts of the island. The Tamils decided to drop a demand for an interim administration, saying they were encouraged by the scope and speed of the peace process, but would leave the option open.

Rebel negotiator Anton Balasingham also said the Tamil Tigers are prepared to accept other political groups in areas under their control as a way of entering mainstream democratic politics in Sri Lanka. It was the second major concession made by the rebels, who dropped their demand for an independent state during the first round of talks held in September at a naval base outside Bangkok. Analyst Sanjay Gathai from Asia Forum in Thailand said the peace process has been encouraging. "The way the government and the LTTE are trying to make strides and work together as a team, trying to establish rapport, it is quite giving a very good signal and it is quite good in fact. I mean they are clearly giving an indication to quite a large number of international communities that they are working together towards real peace," Mr. Gathai said.

An international donors conference aimed at helping Sri Lanka re-build is to be held later this month in Oslo, Norway. The government and rebels hope their new joint committees will identify priority projects to be funded before then. More rounds of peace talks are scheduled for December, January, February and March.

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