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LTTE demands full control over North-East

KILINOCHCHI (Sri Lanka) NOV. 1. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam today demanded an "Interim Self-Governing Authority for the NorthEast (ISGA)," with a majority stake for itself and full control over regional administration "until a final settlement is reached and implemented."

Setting a five-year deadline for "a final settlement," the LTTE said that "if no settlement is reached and implemented'' by then, the interim body's "independent election commission'' would "conduct free and fair elections in accordance with international democratic principles under international observation'' to choose the members of the ISGA. In the first phase, the LTTE, the Government and the Muslims in the northeast would nominate the members.

The Sri Lankan Government, which described the LTTE's offer as one that "differs in fundamental respects'' from the one that it submitted to the Tigers on July 17. It said it would request facilitator Norway to arrange an "initial meeting'' in the coming weeks to "pave way for the resumption of talks'' early next year.

The LTTE's demands, which will have far-reaching consequences for the structure of Sri Lanka's unitary state, include "all powers and functions in relation to regional administration exercised by the Government in and for the northeast'' including revenue, law and order, land and marine resources. In addition to these sensitive issues, the LTTE has sought control over finances with powers over domestic and international borrowings and to "engage in or regulate internal and external trade."

The organisation's political wing leader, S.P. Tamilchelvan, termed the eight-page proposals — the first made by the Tigers in decades of separatist fighting — as "reasonable, rational and practical."

Ready for negotiations

"We are prepared to negotiate with the Government,'' he said, adding that the Tigers had asked facilitators, Norway, to arrange for a meeting with the Government "at a mutually convenient time." The LTTE did not fix any time-frame for the resumption of talks, as these were "always detrimental," but wanted them "at the earliest'' so that it could "clarify'' its position.

Striking a note of optimism, Mr. Tamilchelvan said: "We believe the Government and the international community will accept the proposals in full." Though the two sides have indicated willingness for an early resumption of talks, serious differences persist on the Government's offer and the LTTE's counter-proposals.

Wide-ranging powers

Colombo had proposed an LTTE majority interim administration, but specifically excluded control over police, land, security and revenue when it made an offer to the LTTE for a provisional administrative structure.

In sharp contrast, the LTTE wants the ISGA to have "plenary powers for the governance of the Northeast,'' including raising revenues and levying taxes.

The LTTE has addressed the sensitive issue of de-militarising the North-East by asking for powers over "resettlement of occupied lands." The peace talks had broken down last April after serious differences between Colombo and the Tigers on this issue, as the LTTE wanted the Army moved out of the northern High Security Zones "to facilitate resettlement of the internally displaced people.''

The LTTE counter-proposals — which deal with human rights, secularism, prohibition against discrimination, prevention of bribery, protection of all communities, separation of powers, finance, district committees, administration, land, marine and natural resources and settlement of disputes — are likely to raise serious questions in a highly sensitive polity as they touch upon the core issues to the conflict. Moreover, any move away from the unitary Constitution would be difficult.

"A new Government structure is required," Mr. Tamilchelvan said, reiterating the rebel position that a solution would have to be worked outside the island's unitary Constitution.

Asked if the counter-offer was a stepping-stone to a separate Eelam, he said that "a careful study, not a perusal," would show that they were "ready to consider a viable option to gain basic freedoms for the Tamils.'' Asked if the LTTE was giving up its demand for a separate state, Mr. Tamilchelvan, however, said that was for the "people to decide'' and would depend on how satisfied they were with the manner in which the ISGA functioned. "The LTTE does not have the right to say we have given up or are continuing with the demand."

On the possibility of opposition to the counter-proposals in the backdrop of rivalry between the President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, and the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, he said: "We do not want to comment on southern politics. It is a historic truth that the Opposition has always deterred a solution. The President is a continuation of that past."

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