Rebels want autonomy in parts of Sri Lanka

Proposal calls for interim self-governing authority in north, east territories

November 02, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW DELHI, India - The rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam released a proposal yesterday for an interim authority for the territory they control in Sri Lanka, setting the stage for renewed negotiations with the government.

The rebels have been fighting for a Tamil homeland in the country, which has a Sinhalese majority, for two decades. They have renounced their demand for a separate state, but maintain that only internal self-determination in the form of territorial and political autonomy will safeguard Tamils against discrimination.

The rebels control most of the island nation's north and east. Their proposal calls for the formal establishment of a Tiger-dominated interim administration, which would have absolute power over everything from land to justice in those areas. It would effectively legitimize the institutions already in place.

The conflict between the government and the rebels took more than 64,000 lives before a cease-fire was reached in February last year. After six rounds of peace talks, the rebels withdrew from the process in April, saying that the government had done too little to rehabilitate the war-ravaged northeast.

In July, the government presented its own proposal for a provisional administrative structure for the area. In a statement yesterday, the government pointed out that the proposals differ "in fundamental respects." That appears to be true, both in the nature of the power-sharing they lay out and the powers they would grant to the interim administration.

The rebels' proposal calls for them to have an "absolute majority" in an "interim self-governing authority," and would grant veto power to a chairman elected by that majority. It would give representation to Muslims and Sinhalese, minorities in the north and east, but does not say how much.

The proposal would give the authority the power to raise revenue, administer justice, conduct internal or external trade, control land and the police, and regulate access to the sea along its territory. It would give the authority control of money pledged for the rehabilitation of the northeast. Donors have pledged $662 million.

Under the government proposal, the rebels would have power only over development-related issues, including resettlement of refugees and reconstruction, not over the police, security, land or revenue.

The government proposal calls for a majority for the Tigers in an administrative structure, and "weighted representation" for the Sinhalese and Muslim communities.

The government statement issued yesterday said that the differences between the proposals could best be bridged by "direct discussion," a reference to its efforts to lure the rebels back to the negotiating table. Talks are expected to resume in January.

Finding common ground will be a challenge. The government's proposal would essentially create a federation; the rebels' plan would establish more of a confederation. The government must meet the demands of a group that some fear has used the cease-fire to rearm, while protecting the rights of rival Tamil groups and the Muslims and Sinhalese.

Professor Jayadeva Uyangoda, head of the political science department at Colombo University, said he saw the rebels' proposal as a negotiating position, as it appeared to be formulated with the resumption of talks in mind. But it was significant, he said, in that the rebels' opponents could no longer accuse them of having a hidden agenda.

"For the first time, the LTTE has articulated its position in very clear terms," he said, referring to the rebels.

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