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Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 13:25 GMT 14:25 UK
Tamil rebel leader ends isolation
Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran
Prabhakaran's decision to speak has been met with optimism
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By Frances Harrison
BBC Sri Lanka correspondent

One of the world's most reclusive rebel leaders is making a rare public appearance on Wednesday.

Aftermath of Tiger bomb in Colombo
Critics of the government are wary of the speed of the peace process

Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of Sri Lanka's separatist Tamil Tigers and a master strategist behind many military successes, has called journalists to the rebel-controlled town of Kilinochchi.

His decision to speak about the peace process has generated further optimism that an end to a conflict that has killed more than 65,000 people might be in sight.

It will be difficult for the Tamil Tiger leader to make such a public and well-publicised appearance without endorsing the peace process in Sri Lanka.

Goodwill gestures

There had been some thought that Mr Prabakharan might wait until the ceasefire agreement signed in March was fully implemented.

It will take three months to fulfil a detailed timetable of goodwill gestures from both sides.

But the fact that the rebel leader is coming out of his self imposed isolation sooner than many expected is a good sign that he wants to put his full backing behind the peace process.

Until now it has been the leader of the political wing of the Tamil Tigers, Mr Tamilselvan, who has been the public face of an organisation.

The Tigers have been endeavouring to transform their image from a militaristic outfit into something like a civil administration.

That dichotomy, at least in public, has led to questions about whether there was a split between the military and political wings of the Tigers - with one pursuing peace and the other war.

Lingering fears

Mr Prabhakaran is sure to face questions on whether the rebel outfit has now truly given up its demand for an independent state and will accept autonomy instead.

But by subjecting himself to these questions, the Tiger leader has an opportunity to confirm his commitment to the peace process.

He will also have the chance to allay many of the fears of the majority Sinhalese community, which suspects its government is being too hasty in its desperation to end the country's crippling civil war.

See also:

08 Apr 02 | South Asia
Key Sri Lanka road opens
29 Mar 02 | South Asia
Direct talks in Sri Lankan conflict
22 Feb 02 | South Asia
Ceasefire signed in Sri Lanka
09 Apr 02 | South Asia
The enigma of Prabhakaran
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