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 Tuesday, 7 January, 2003, 16:40 GMT
Sri Lanka talks snag 'resolved'
Chief rebel negotiator Anton Balasingham with government negotiator GL Peiris in Thailand
Fears that talks would collapse have not been realised
Tamil Tiger rebels holding peace talks with the Sri Lankan Government say a crisis over disarmament has been overcome.

The question of resettlement of refugees should not be linked to decommissioning

Anton Balasingham
chief rebel negotiator
The army had linked the return home of tens of thousands of refugees to rebel decommissioning - something the Tigers categorically rule out.

The rebels have now suspended participation in a joint security committee, calling the army intransigent.

But their chief negotiator said the government had accepted that humanitarian issues cannot be linked to decommissioning.

Jaffna Peninsula
Tamils must be allowed home, say the Tigers
"Today we were able to resolve the problem," Anton Balasingham told reporters in Thailand, where the talks are taking place.

"The government has accepted that this is purely a humanitarian problem.

"The question of resettlement of refugees should not be linked to decommissioning."

'Unfair'

Mr Balasingham complained they could not do business with the army general representing the government side in the security committee because they saw him as intransigent and paranoid.

You have a large problem. One segment of it can be dealt with immediately and in doing so, you can provide relief to thousands of people

GL Peiris
government chief negotiator
He said the army's linking of rebel disarmament with the return of displaced people to high security areas was totally unfair and unacceptable.

"And it has seriously affected the momentum of the peace process," he said. "It has created a crisis."

The Tigers say the dispute has now been resolved by both sides agreeing to use another body to address refugee issues.

But BBC correspondent Frances Harrison says it is clear it has created yet more hostility between the rebels and the military.

The Tigers are now expressing doubts about whether the army will support the government in implementing the peace process.

But, overall, Mr Balasingham said he felt this peace initiative would still succeed because it had already made remarkable progress.

Groundwork

Earlier, the Sri Lankan Government said it had started working with the rebels to draw up a plan to resettle those displaced by the war.

Tamil Tiger fighters
Army wants rebels disarmed
The two sides also started discussing human rights with a view to introducing international practices and safeguards.

Chief government negotiator GL Peiris said the progress made on the refugee issue would no doubt disappoint those who had expected the peace talks to break down over it.

He said the pragmatic approach of both sides was refreshing.

He said it would not be sensible to delay resolvable issues by discussing more controversial matters.

Officials on both sides have begun work on how to prepare the ground for civilians to return to what is left of their homes.

They are laying detailed plans for de-mining, repair of basic infrastructure, such as water and sanitation, and arranging for the army to vacate houses that are still standing.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Frances Harrison
"In the long term this division may cause problems"
  Vidar Helgesen, Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister
"There is a long way to go"

Peace efforts

Background

BBC SINHALA SERVICE

BBC TAMIL SERVICE

TALKING POINT
See also:

06 Jan 03 | South Asia
01 Jan 03 | South Asia
30 Dec 02 | South Asia
26 Dec 02 | South Asia
05 Dec 02 | South Asia
03 Jan 03 | South Asia
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