Tigers give backing to democracy across Sri Lanka

After nearly two decades of civil war in which 64,000 people have died, Sri Lanka's government and the Tamil Tigers have achieved a startling breakthrough in their efforts to end the conflict that has torn apart the tropical island.

At the end of a second round of peace talks in Thailand, the Tigers announced yesterday that they wanted to participate in democracy, and would allow other political parties to operate in the areas under their control in the north and east. Their "ultimate aim was ... to enter the political mainstream, which is democratic", said their chief negotiator Anton Balasingham.

He said: "Both parties are sincerely and seriously committed to peace and we'll make every endeavour to see a final and permanent settlement is reached without much delay."

He also said the Tigers had recruited children as fighters – something which the UN and human rights groups have long accused it of, but which the guerrilla organisation has never before admitted in public. "They have been handed over to their parents. There are no child soldiers in the north-east now," he said.

The breakthrough raised hopes that a settlement may now be possible after a brutal and economically crippling war that began in 1983 and rendered a million people homeless.

The Tigers – branded as "terrorists" by at least five countries, including Britain and America – have been fighting for the Tamil minority, 18 per cent of the 19 million population, who complain of widespread discrimination by the Sinhalese majority. In September they dropped their demand for an independent state, saying they would settle for regional autonomy. Their tactics have included assassinations, suicide attacks, and bombings.

The success came despite a Sri Lankan court ruling, just before the talks began, that slapped a 200-year jail sentence in absentia on the man who founded the Tigers, Velupillai Prabhakaran. The conviction – for a suicide bombing in 1996 that killed about 80 people – was described by the Tigers' negotiator as "utterly ridiculous".

Vidar Helgesen, the deputy foreign minister of Norway – which is acting as mediator – said that the prospects for peace looked good. Guardedly optimistic noises came from the government of Sri Lanka, which has spent vast amounts in a failed attempt to subdue the guerrillas by military force.

Sri Lanka's chief negotiator, G L Peiris, declared that the Tigers were now "engaged in a transformation to a political organisation". The Sri Lankan government lifted its ban on them in September, before the talks began. "Whatever noises are made at the fringes, we will definitely stay our course because we know that mainstream public opinion is behind us," Mr Peiris said.

In an illustration of the changed atmosphere, both Mr Peiris and Mr Balasingham suggested the rebel negotiator was likely to meet Sri Lanka's Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, at a donor nations conference in Norway on 25 November.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star