The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Peace hopes soar in Lanka

Colombo, Nov. 29 (Reuters): Sri Lanka has turned a major corner on its road to ending a civil war that has killed 64,000 people and shattered the island’s economy, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said today.

In a speech to Parliament, Wickremesinghe said a negotiated end to two decades of war was increasingly possible after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said it would settle for regional autonomy instead of fighting for a separate Tamil state.

He called the developments a “paradigm shift” that shows “the LTTE no longer relentlessly pursues the idea of a separate state but is content to consider substantial power-sharing within a framework of a unified Sri Lanka”. The rebels had been fighting for a separate state in the north and east for Tamils, who they say are discriminated against by the island’s majority Sinhalese.

The LTTE’s reclusive leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, said in a speech on rebel radio this week that Tamil aspirations could be met by self-rule and regional autonomy, items which would be defined in talks with the government. “This encourages me to believe that the political dialogue can be fruitful because the positions of the two parties are no longer incompatible,” Wickremesinghe said.

His speech met demands from opposition lawmakers — who have been critical of some parts of the peace process — that they be brought up to date on the talks and on a donors’ conference held in Oslo last week.

The government and Tigers signed a Norwegian-brokered truce in February, setting up a series of direct talks that started in September and will continue with a third round in Oslo next week.

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