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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all