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Sri Lanka Reacts Cautiously to Tamil Proposal - 2003-11-01

The Sri Lankan government has reacted cautiously to power-sharing proposals presented by Tamil Tiger rebels, but says the proposals will lead to renewed peace talks. The rebels also say they are willing to end their six-month boycott of peace negotiations and rejoin efforts to end the two-decade long ethnic conflict.

Unveiling details of their power-sharing plan for the first time on Saturday, the Tamil Tigers say they want an interim self-governing authority in the rebel-controlled north and east for five years, or until a final peace deal is negotiated.

The rebels want wide-ranging powers over land, tax collection and law enforcement for their interim administration, which will function within a federal framework. They also want separate judicial institutions, unrestricted access to the sea and withdrawal of government troops from privately owned Tamil land.

The administration would be rebel-dominated, but would include representatives from the government and the minority Muslim community.

The rebels began fighting for a separate Tamil homeland in the north and east in 1983, but agreed to settle for autonomy last December. The plan is the most detailed so far of their political expectations.

Many of the rebel proposals go far beyond the limited administrative and financial powers the government had earlier offered the guerrillas.

But at a news conference in the rebel-held town of Killinochi, the guerrillas called on the government to be "bold enough to go beyond the constitution."

In a statement, the Sri Lankan government says the rebel plan differs fundamentally from government proposals, but says direct talks might resolve the disparities.

A political analyst with Colombo's National Peace Council, Jehan Perera, says that even though the rebel plan is ambitions, it can be used to put an end to the country's two-decade long ethnic conflict. He says the proposals are serious and were hammered out by the rebels, also known as the LTTE, after months of meetings with legal and constitutional experts.

"They are reasonable proposals, they are proposals we should welcome, LTTE have put out a concrete stance short of a separate country, and there are no immediate red flags, things that would enrage the Sinhalese population, such as asking for removal of security forces or eviction of Sinhalese settlements, things that provoke them. So I think it is a good beginning," he said.

The government is under pressure from Sinhala radical groups not to hand over too much power to the Tamil Tigers - particularly in the area of security. The Sinhalese are the majority in Sri Lanka.

Government negotiator G.L. Peiris says the government will ask Norwegian mediators to arrange a preliminary meeting with Tamil rebels in the coming weeks to pave the way for peace talks early next year.

Tamil Tigers began peace talks last year to find a solution to their armed struggle for a separate Tamil homeland. But the talks were deadlocked in April and the rebels said they would only resume negotiations if they were given an interim administration.