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Sunday, 3 November, 2002, 13:14 GMT
Rapid progress to Sri Lanka peace
G L Peiris, left, and Anton Balasingham
Negotiators: Spirit of compromise and conciliation
The Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil Tiger rebels say they have made surprisingly fast progress in their four days of peace talks, which ended on Sunday.


The ultimate aim... is finally to enter into the democratic, political mainstream

Anton Balasingham, Tamil Tigers' chief negotiator
The Tamil Tigers, once one of the world's most ruthless guerrilla groups, say they are beginning to transform into a political organisation.

Their chief negotiator, Anton Balasingham, said they are now willing to accept and assimilate rival political groups, and allow a plurality of views in their strongholds in north-eastern Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan Government's chief negotiator G L Peiris said the two sides had "made progress that no-one thought was possible".

Three committees are to be set up

  • to examine rehabilitation needs in war-hit areas
  • to push military de-escalation
  • to look at political questions at the heart of the 19-year civil war.


We have virtually agreed to everything

G L Peiris, Sri Lanka's chief negotiator

The peace talks, brokered by the Norwegian Government, have been taking place amid tight security in Nakhon Pathom in Thailand.

The two sides have agreed dates for the next four rounds of meetings.

Breakthrough

The talks were originally expected to focus mostly on humanitarian issues such as demining and refugees.

There had been criticism from the country's opposition that the peace process so far had insufficient discussion of the shape of a final settlement.

But on Sunday the two sides went further.

Sri Lankan soldiers
More than 64,000 people have died in the 19-year conflict
Mr Balasingham said the rebels had previously thought that negotiations would last so long that some interim government would need to be set up in the meantime.

But after surprising progress at the latest round of talks, he said, "we will straightaway enter into the process of core issues."

"The ultimate aim... is finally to enter into the democratic, political mainstream. We are working on it. We are aiming at a political solution," he said.

'Pragmatic approach'

Mediators praised the spirit of conciliation that they said had marked the talks, but noted that tough obstacles lay ahead.

"The parties demonstrated a positive, pragmatic and conciliatory approach in discussing a wide range of issues, including present challenges as well as matters related to long-term solutions," the Norwegian government's statement said.

An international donor conference is to be held in Oslo on 25 November.

BBC's Frances Harrison says it is likely Mr Balasingham will meet the Sri Lankan prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, on the sidelines of the conference.

That would be the highest-level meeting for a decade between the two sides, and it would send a strong message that former enemies are now making friends.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Frances Harrison reports from Thailand
"The willingness to compromise has surprised everyone"

Peace efforts

Background

BBC SINHALA SERVICE

BBC TAMIL SERVICE

TALKING POINT
See also:

01 Nov 02 | South Asia
30 Oct 02 | South Asia
27 Jun 02 | South Asia
30 Oct 02 | South Asia
15 Oct 02 | Country profiles
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