The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rights focus before aid meet
- Lanka govt, Tigers agree on key issue at Bangkok talks

Colombo, Dec. 9 (Reuters): The Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels, riding a wave of breakthroughs in peace talks to end 19 years of war, plan to tackle human rights issues in their next meeting, a senior Cabinet minister said today.

Progress on resolving human rights problems connected to the separatist war is seen as key to a major donors’ conference planned for Japan to raise aid to rebuild Sri Lanka.

“Human rights is going to be one of the major topics to be discussed,” constitutional affairs minister G.L. Peiris said of next month’s peace talks set for a resort outside Bangkok.

“We think that the discussions of human rights is going to be very important because they will lay the foundation for the donors’ meeting that is scheduled to be be held in Tokyo in May of next year,” Peiris told a regular news conference.

The government and the LTTE — fighting for a separate Tamil state — have been accused of widespread human rights violations.

The Tigers run a ruthless one-party state in the area of northern Sri Lanka they control and have been accused of using child soldiers in the war that has killed 64,000 people and displaced more than one million.

But in peace talks held last week in Oslo, the government and LTTE agreed to work out a system of regional autonomy within a federal framework.

The accord on a federal model with limited self-rule for Tamil areas is a big step toward ending the war in the Indian Ocean nation and comes after the rebels dropped a cornerstone demand for independence for the north and east of the island.

The rebels have already visited Switzerland to study the federal system there, and will also look at models in Canada Australia, Germany and India, Peiris said.

A small donors’ conference was held in Oslo — Norway is mediating the peace process — last month and raised $70 million, and Peiris said the Tokyo meeting would be larger and include international bodies such as the World Bank.

Donors have been hesitant to give to Sri Lanka because past peace bids have collapsed, leading to renewed violence, but the current talks have raised hopes of a lasting peace.

The next two rounds of talks in Thailand in January and February will also aim to map out details of a system of power sharing.

Annan hails efforts

UN secretary-general Kofi Annan has lauded the progress achieved in the talks in Oslo and said he hoped the peace process between the Lankan government and Tamil Tigers would be completed through future negotiations.

In a statement released by his spokesman in New York, the secretary-general welcomed the conclusion of the third round of Sri Lanka peace talks.

“It is his earnest hope that further progress toward a lasting settlement acceptable to all communities will be made in future rounds,” the statement said, hailing both parties for their commitment to peace.

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