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Sri Lanka Rebels, Government End Berlin Talks


Negotiators for Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels and government have ended another round of peace talks with commitments to resolve the country's political future. Human rights issues and some economic matters have been addressed.

A joint statement released after two days of talks in Berlin says the sides have agreed to discuss the economic aspects of a federal structure at the next round of talks.

The Tamil Tigers also pledged to stop recruiting child soldiers, a major obstacle to the rebels' hopes of being viewed as a legitimate political party.

Norway, which mediated the talks, said an agreement on the World Bank's running of a reconstruction fund for war ravaged areas will be signed within one week. A statement released by Norway said the sides once again appeal to the international community to make funds quickly available for immediate humanitarian and rehabilitation needs.

On Friday, both sides had agreed that a former head of Amnesty International, Ian Martin, would draw up a blueprint for human rights issues relating to the peace process.

A cease-fire has been in effect in Sri Lanka for one year. Norwegian mediator Erik Solheim says this has helped create a climate in which progress on political matters could go forward. "Sri Lanka is changing a lot through the lack of war," he said. "Some people tend to portray that as a minor thing. That is a very big achievement, that there is no war. Then, on that basis, they will solve the political problems. But it will take time, there will be obstacles, potholes, difficulties everyone knows."

Minority Tamil rebels began fighting for a separate homeland in 1983, saying they suffer discrimination from Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority. The conflict has killed more than 60,000 people and left more than one million others displaced.

Last year the rebels dropped their demand for a separate state and agreed to accept autonomy for Tamil-dominated areas in the east and north of the country.

The next round of talks is scheduled to be held in Japan in March. This was the fifth round of the negotiations, which began in September.

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