Tigers demand 'substantial autonomy, self government'

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 18 September 2002, 17:56 GMT]
The Liberation Tigers said Wednesday that they are seeking “substantial autonomy and self government in the Tamil homeland and expressed optimism that a solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict could be worked out by negotiation. Addressing a press conference in Sittahip, Thailand, after the first round of direct Norwegian facilitated talks with the Sri Lankan government, the Chief Negotiator of the LTTE, Mr. Anton Balasingham said the LTTE would only seek an independent state “as a last resort” if the Tamil demand for “regional autonomy is rejected and conditions of oppression continue.”

Responding to reporters’ questions as to whether the LTTE had given up fighting for a separate state, Mr. Balasingham said: “The LTTE doesn't operate with the concept of a separate state. We operate with the concept of a homeland and self-determination.”

“Homeland doesn't mean a separate state as such. It refers to a territory where the Tamil-speaking people live,” he pointed out.

Mr.Anton Balasingham.
LTTE’s chief negotiator Anton Balasingham speaks during a news conference at landmark Sri Lankan peace talks, in Pattaya, southeast of Bangkok, September 18, 2002.
“When we use the category or concept of self-determination, we mean that the concept entails substantial autonomy or self-government in our homeland or in the historical areas where we live,” he said. “And [we feel] that solutions can be worked out if both the parties agree to a particular political system or model.”

“But, if our demand for regional autonomy and self-government is rejected and if conditions of oppression continue, as a last resort our people have no option other than to fight for political independence and statehood,” he said. “That will be the last resort under the principle of self determination.”

“[Therefore] saying that the LTTE is fighting for an independent state has no relevance because we operate with different categories and concepts,” he added.

Asked by a correspondent if Mr. Balasingham’s comments gave him hope of resolving the ethnic conflict, Chief Negotiator of the Sri Lankan government, Mr. G. L. Peiris said: "Definitely. We know that [separation] is not their [Tigers’] objective. They have stated it categorically on this occasion: a separate state is not what their aspirations are about."

“Their aspirations can be fulfilled within one country if we set about it in the proper way,” he said further.

Responding to a question as to whether the disarming of the LTTE was discussed at the 3-day talks, Mr. Balasingham said: “There is no question of disarmament at this early stage of the discussion. You know very well both parties- the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE have two standing armies and two navies and this is the first time a stable cease-fire has been established. The question of disarming and decommissioning the LTTE will not arise until we reach a permanent settlement that will satisfy the aspirations of Tamil people.”

Mr. Balasingham’s views were echoed later by Mr. Peiris who said “At the beginning of a negotiating process you don’t ask about disarmament. You have to achieve some progress with regard to substantive issues [first] and decommissioning of weapons or demilitarisation would come a later stage. That is how any realistic, pragmatic negotiation process would be handled.”


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