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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 November, 2003, 14:31 GMT
Analysis: Starting point for negotiations

By Frances Harrison
BBC correspondent in Colombo

The Sri Lankan Government has reacted cautiously to proposals for power sharing that the Tamil Tiger rebels have called historic.

Sri Lankan security forces arrest Tamil Tiger suspect
The conflict has lasted for 20 years
"It differs in fundamental respects from the proposals submitted by the government of Sri Lanka," said a statement from chief negotiator G L Peiris.

The eight-page document, made public after months of speculation, is the result of several trips by the rebels to foreign countries to study different federal systems and consult constitutional experts.

It is also the most detailed articulation so far of the Tigers' willingness to compromise on their demand for a separate state.

'Good beginning'

Peace activists in the south have welcomed the document.

It shows an awareness of issues involved with good governance
Jehan Perera, National Peace Council
"It's a very good beginning," said Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council.

But he criticised the response of the Sri Lankan Government.

"The government has been inappropriately cautious because of its desire to please the nationalist Sinhalese who are a relatively small minority but who can cause trouble and generate violence," said Mr Perera.

The Tigers are asking for an "interim self-governing authority" for the north-east of Sri Lanka with powers over land, law and order and finances.

A majority of the members of this body would be appointed by the Tigers, although it would have representatives from the Sinhala and Muslim communities and be subject to elections after five years.

Human rights

What many were looking for were signs of a commitment to protect rival ethnic groups and uphold values of human rights.

The document does include provisions for the establishment of an independent human rights commission.

"It's a refined proposal and it shows an awareness of issues involved with good governance," said Mr Perera, even though full implementation still has to be watched.

There is no mention of disarmament - something the Tigers say they can only envisage at the time of a final political settlement because they see their extensive armed wing as their only bargaining chip at the negotiating table.

Much of the devil will be in the details and happily these are left to be worked out behind closed doors at peace talks which are now expected to resume in early January.

Starting point

The rebels' document contains no mention of how to integrate their own police force and judiciary with that of the government.

The government should also be privately happy there is none of the usual emphasis on the right of the Tamil people to self-determination and insistence on the withdrawal of the armed forces from the Tamil homeland.

Instead, what is presented is a document which is a reasonable starting point for negotiations, though clearly the government does not want to accept it unaltered.

At a news conference in rebel territory, the head of the Tigers' political wing, S P Thamilselvan, made it clear they were ready to discuss any matters that might need adjustment in their proposal.

That is not to underplay the complicated nature of many of the disputes still to be resolved even before an interim administration can be set up.

Refugees

The Tigers are demanding control over regulating access to marine and offshore resources.

The Sri Lankan navy, which complains the rebels have used the ceasefire to smuggle in weapons by sea, may not agree.

And the Tigers have given special emphasis to the need to resettle refugees displaced from homes currently occupied by the Sri Lankan military.

Thousands of these homes fall within high security camps that the government will be reluctant to relocate or remove.

Some may take issue with the Tigers' suggestion that they have the power to borrow externally - seeing this as a sign of sovereignty not normally devolved to a region.

And there is still the question of the legality of devolving all these powers - constitutional experts believe giving control over land and the judiciary may cause legal problems for the government even on an interim basis.




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