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Sunday, 9 February, 2003, 07:06 GMT
Analysis: Sri Lanka keeps talking
Tamil Tiger chief negotiator Anton Balasingham (l) and chief government negotiator GL Peiris in Berlin
Violence at home did not torpedo the talks
The BBC's Chris Morris

Two days of Sri Lankan peace talks in snowy Berlin have made some progress though they were overshadowed by events at home.

The news that three members of the Tamil Tigers had blown themselves up with their boat off Sri Lanka's northern coast rather than surrender to the navy was a sobering reminder of how fragile a process this is.

Even though it was a tragic incident... we have continued with the peace process

Anton Balasingham,
Tamil Tiger negotiator
The Tamil Tiger negotiators in Berlin were furious and clearly felt let down by the international monitors who keep watch over the ceasefire between the rebels and government forces.

The monitors said the Tigers had broken the ceasefire agreement by taking weapons into an area controlled by the other side. The motive, they suggested, was the smuggling of arms.

The Tigers hotly denied it, and said their boat had simply gone to help a trawler which had broken down. The boat had only one gun on board, they said.

In short, it was a mess. But after a brief delay the talks went on, under the careful mediation of the Norwegian Government.

The chief rebel negotiator Anton Balasingham said: "Anyone with any intelligence or military knowledge can safely assume that this was not an act of smuggling.

"But the most important thing is that even though it was a tragic incident... we have continued with the peace process."

And in that spirit, the two sides moved forward.

Agreements

There were agreements on the rehabilitation of child soldiers and the rapid implementation of reconstruction projects to try to show ordinary people the practical benefits of peace.

An important decision was also made in relation to broader human rights issues.

The former head of Amnesty International, Ian Martin, has been asked by the government and the Tigers to produce a blueprint of human rights measures which might be included in a final settlement, such as formal training in humanitarian and human rights law.

In a country which has been scarred by the gross abuse of human rights for many years, that is quite a step forward but there is a nagging doubt.

How much of what is agreed around the negotiating table will actually be implemented on the ground?

Food for sceptics

There are clearly people on both sides who would like this process to fail - hard-line rebels who do not want to give up the goal of a separate state and critics of the government who say it is naive in trusting the Tamil Tigers in the first place.

This is a sequel to 20 years of a ferocious war and these problems are not going to be sorted out overnight

GL Peiris,
Chief government negotiator

The sceptics on both sides will try to use the naval clash as evidence to bolster their case.

It certainly did nothing to help re-establish trust.

More worrying for the peace camp, though, is the fear that international donors may be more reluctant to open their pockets if they believe the cease-fire is under threat.

So this is a time for optimists to stand their ground.

The government's chief negotiator in Berlin, GL Peiris, admitted that it is an "extremely complex and painful situation".

But he called on the donor community to have faith in the negotiations.

Slow progress

"This is a sequel to 20 years of a ferocious war and these problems are not going to be sorted out overnight," Professor Peiris said.

"But I think the international community has shown a degree of maturity and perception in understanding the circumstances."

In a matter of months, the peace talks have made real progress but a final political settlement is still some way off.

There will be plenty of difficult moments ahead - peace always comes at a price.

But the only alternative is a grim one: a return to a conflict which has bled Sri Lanka dry.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Chris Morris reports from Berlin
"This was never going to be easy"

Peace efforts

Background

BBC SINHALA SERVICE

BBC TAMIL SERVICE

TALKING POINT
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05 Feb 03 | South Asia
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