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Sri Lanka Peace Agreement Reached - 2002-12-05

Sri Lanka's government and Tamil rebels have reached an agreement that could end their 19-year civil war. The deal gives regional autonomy to Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil minority.

After four days of negotiations in Oslo, Norway, both sides emerged claiming victory.

Rebel negotiator Anton Balasingham said the agreement on a federal system for the island nation gives minority Tamils the self-determination they had been fighting for. He called it "historic."

Government representative G.L. Peiris said the deal satisfies what he called the "yearning for peace," among both Tamils and Sri Lanka's ethnic Sinhalese majority. He confidently told reporters "there is not going to be a war. We are sure of that".

The Tamil Tigers rebels had been fighting for independence since 1983. The war claimed more than 64,000 lives, including that of President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was assassinated by a Tamil suicide bomber in 1993. The two sides agreed to a cease-fire nine months ago and started talks toward a full settlement.

The deal reached in Oslo involves major concessions on both sides. The Tamil Tigers give up their demand for independence in Tamil-majority areas of the island. In return, the government agreed to a federal system that will allow the Tamils to operate their own courts, political parties and police, independent of the rest of the country.

The peace agreement was reached exactly a year after elections in Sri Lanka that brought Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to power. Mr. Wickremesinghe's party had campaigned on a pledge to make peace.

As the deal was announced in Oslo, Mr. Wickremesinghe was in Tokyo seeking funds to help rebuild his war-torn nation. He told reporters Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi agreed to host a conference of international donors and lending agencies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The Sri Lankan prime minister said Tokyo would also be the site of another round of talks with the Tamil rebels. Both meetings are likely to be held early next year.