| Norwegian foreign minister Vidar Helgesen (centre), Tamil Tiger chief negotiator Anton Balasingham (left) and Sri Lankan government chief negotiator G.L Peiris plant a tree to commemorate the second round of peace talks. (Reuters)
Nakhorn Pathom (Thailand), Nov. 3 (Reuters): Sri Lankan government and Tamil rebel negotiators ended peace talks today with a major breakthrough by agreeing to discuss political issues at the core of one of Asia’s longest-running wars.
The four-day talks, the second round of peace negotiations to be held in Thailand, were originally expected to deal with humanitarian issues such as demining and refugees in the war-torn north and east.
But the two sides went much further, creating a sub-committee to start looking for a political solution to the conflict in which 64,000 people have died.
“We have been engaged in a violent and brutal war over the last 20 years, so one shouldn’t expect a quick solution,” Tamil Tiger chief negotiator Anton Balasingham told a news conference.
“But since we have engaged in political negotiations in Thailand we have achieved remarkable success in a very short time,” he said, adding that the surprise sentencing of the rebel’s leader to 200 years’ jail in absentia the day the talks began was an irritant but did not affect his resolve.
“Both parties are sincerely and seriously committed to peace and we’ll make every endeavour to see a final and permanent settlement is reached without much delay.”
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been fighting for a separate state in the north and east for the Hindu-majority Tamils, who it says are discriminated against by the island’s Buddhist Sinhala majority.
“We’re working on a political solution, a final solution, where the LTTE can enter into a democratic political framework,” Balasingham said.
“We’ll focus attention on how ethnic conflicts have been resolved by accommodation of ethnic problems in a political system. We’ll be looking at federal and confederal models.”
Balasingham and the government’s chief negotiator G.L. Peiris agreed to set up sub- committees to overlook rehabilitation needs in war-hit areas, push military de-escalation as well as examine political questions at the heart of the 19-year-old war.
The sub-committee looking into political solutions, to be headed by Balasingham and Peiris, may also answer criticism from the opposition in the south who have accused the government of dragging its feet on discussing the main issues with the rebels.
Another sub-committee will deal with urgent humanitarian needs in the north and east, which have some of the poorest areas in Sri Lanka.
It will likely decide on how resources are allocated and what agencies are involved, key questions as many of the needy are living in areas controlled by the LTTE, and could help convince donors to open their wallets when they meet in Oslo on November 25.