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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
  • Get to the point
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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power