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Allow Rebels in Security Forces, says Sri Lanka PM - 2003-02-23

Sri Lanka's prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe says Tamil Tiger rebels should be allowed to join the state police, military and judiciary as part of a final political settlement to the island's ethnic conflict. the Sri Lankan leader says his government is determined to continue with the peace process, which began a year ago.

Mr. Wickremesinghe says a common police, army and judiciary must be established in the entire nation. The Tamil Tigers currently have their own army and law courts in rebel-controlled areas in the north and the east of the country.

His comments came in an interview on national television soon after celebrations were held Saturday to mark the first anniversary a truce signed with Tamil rebels.

Mr. Wickremesinghe says any final political settlement reached with the rebels will have to be approved by the country at a referendum.

The rebels have agreed to accept autonomy for the Tamil-dominated north and east under a federal structure. But the details of how power will be shared between the central government and the Tamils have still to be worked out.

Political analysts expect that the negotiations will be long-drawn out.

The prime minister says the rebels are under pressure from the international community to continue with the peace process and show progress in areas such as human rights. In recent weeks, the rebels have been criticized for allegedly recruiting child soldiers.

The government and the rebels are expecting millions of dollars in aid from a donors conference being organized in Japan next month. The money is being raised to rebuild war-ravaged areas.

The next round of peace talks will also be held in Tokyo. The two sides are expected to discuss fiscal issues such as sharing of revenues. The administration of Tamil-held areas is completely in the hands of the rebels, who have established their own tax systems. They also run their own departments in areas such as education, finance and health.

The Tamil rebels began their struggle for independence in 1983 complaining of discrimination from the majority Sinhala community.