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Tamil Tigers Rule Out Disarming Until Final Settlement - 2003-01-09

Tamil Tiger rebels have ruled out disarming until there is a final settlement of the 19-year conflict with the Sri Lankan government. But, the two sides have drafted a plan to address humanitarian issues in their latest peace negotiations in Thailand.

Fears that the fourth round of Sri Lankan peace talks could loose momentum over thorny security issues failed to surface, as both sides agreed instead to focus on helping the internally displaced return to their homes in the country's war-ravaged north and east.

Government and Tamil rebel negotiators issued a statement Thursday saying they had drafted a "roadmap" to speed up the resettlement of around 100,000 displaced families and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees will help.

They also agreed to have the World Bank oversee the disbursement of millions of dollars in aid pledged by donor countries for reconstruction and rehabilitation.

Both sides stressed they would not go back to war, but instead were dealing with their differences through political dialogue.

Sri Lanka's bitter civil conflict has cost the lives of more than 60,000 people and displaced a million more.

Sanjay Gathia from the human right's group, Asia Forum, says that both sides have shown confidence in each other in this Norwegian-brokered negotiation process. "I think both the parties have mutually respected each other's view and really accepted that yes, there is a difference on one point of issue and that since they could not agree on the same they have decided to move forward for the present moment," said Sanjay Gathia.

What they did not agree upon was disarmament.

The Army wants the rebels to disarm before allowing the refugees to return to their homes in security zones it has set up.

But chief rebel negotiator Anton Balasingham rejected that call - saying it would diminish his bargaining power in reaching a final peace settlement. But he said the issue was not critical at this time since February's cease-fire is still holding and the peace talks are going well.

The peace talks have made significant gains since they began last September.

The rebels dropped their demand for a separate Tamil state during the first round of talks and have instead agreed to autonomy under a federal state.

Both sides also agreed this week to hold monthly meetings between Defense Secretary Austin Fernando and Tamil military commander M. Karuna to discuss cease-fire violations and other complaints.

The next round of talks is scheduled for February.