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Saturday, August 14, 1999 Published at 15:38 GMT 16:38 UK


World: South Asia

Hope for Sri Lankan peace

A safe route has been agreed by the government and the Tigers

By Susannah Price in Colombo

A leading Sri Lankan businessman, who will meet the rebel Tamil Tigers if the government and opposition can agree on a set of peace proposals, has said he is hopeful of success.

The head of the Business Forum, Lalith Kotelawala, has just brokered an agreement between the ruling People's Alliance and the opposition party to work towards a mutually acceptable peace proposal by the end of September.

Mr Kotelawala will then take the proposals to the Tigers. He said he was not daunted by the string of previous failed attempts to bring about peace, including efforts by India and the United Kingdom, and said his Sri Lankan nationality made a difference.

Political moves

The general election in Sri Lanka is less than a year away and the war of words between the government and opposition has escalated.


[ image: The conflict has affected everyone]
The conflict has affected everyone
But this week's agreement demonstrates there is some political will to end the 16-year-old conflict that has cost tens of thousands of lives.

Any peace proposals taken to the rebel Tamil Tigers needs the backing of both parties in case the government changes.

The business community, which has suffered a great deal because of the conflict, initiated moves to find a bipartisan approach to peace last year.

Mr Kotelawala told the BBC he was now in an optimistic mood.

"I am hoping it will work - the signs are that it is working. For one year we have been trying to get the two major parties, PA and UNP, together to talk to each other on resolving the conflict," he said.

Devolution

The government and Mr Kotelawala believe the final proposals will be based on the government's ideas of more autonomy for the north and east. The opposition also supports some kind of devolution.


[ image: The Tigers have carried out recent bomb attacks]
The Tigers have carried out recent bomb attacks
But the plans will not meet the Tigers' demands for a separate homeland for the Tamils in the north east.

Mr Kotelawala, who was injured in a Tamil Tiger bomb blast which devastated the financial centre of Colombo in 1996, said swift action was needed.

"Will they do something? I hope so for the sake of the country, for the people because they dearly wish it to be so.

"[They] cannot be insensitive to the orphans, the widows, crippled people, soldiers and civilians, to the millions we are spending on this war, ... [and] the social problems this war will create for generations to come."

The move to find a mutually acceptable proposal came a few days after the government and Tigers finally agreed on opening a land route between their areas.

But it was also in the same week that the Tigers killed nine policemen and an army officer in two separate attacks.

Even if the business community succeeds in breaking the long running deadlock between the political parties, the far more difficult task of negotiating with the Tigers still lies ahead.



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