SATTAHIP (Thailand), Sept 18: The Tamil Tigers on Wednesday dropped demands for a separate state in Sri Lanka, in a breakthrough announced at the end of three-day peace talks.

“We are fighting for a ‘substantial autonomy’, not independence,” said said chief Tiger negotiator Anton Balasingham at a joint press conference with the Lankan government’s representatives after the conclusion of the negotiations between the LTTE and Colombo.

The talks are now scheduled to resume on Oct 31.

The LTTE leader said, however, that there was “no question of the Tamil Tigers laying down arms”, and denied that there was any such pressure from the government.

He observed that laying down of arms is “no option”, until and unless a permanent solution to the Tamil ethnic question is reached.

“Initially we were concerned about the humanitarian issues and restoration of normalcy to the North and East.”

He said that the LTTE has agreed to a series of meetings from October to January with Sri Lankan government representatives.

Balasingham said that the LTTE chief, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, was “satisfied” with the peace talks.

“These are men of high calibre to whom we are talking this time. The discussions are bound to reach a settlement for a long lasting peace”, Balasingham observed.

The head of Sri Lankan government’s delegation, Prof Peiris, said that it was too early to concentrate on legal aspects.

He had already stated that the proposed interim administration would be “strictly within the Sri Lankan constitution’s limits and within a unitary state”.

Mr Vidar Helgesen, an official at the Norwegian foreign ministry who attended the talks, said the atmosphere was “totally cordial”, with a “casual dress code” and a “casual tone of voice”.

“There was a total sense of togetherness. It was a promising start. Tough issues were discussed but the understanding reached between the two sides during the last three days would make it possible for the successful carrying out of discussions in the next few months,”, Helgessen said.

MOSQUES: To a question about the reconstruction of the hundreds of mosques destroyed by LTTE artillery, Balasingham said “a very high level of priority” would be given to the restoration of these mosques.

Muslim Affairs Minister Rauf Hakeem, said in an interview that he was happy with the pledges given by the LTTE and added that he would meet LTTE supremo Vellupillai Prabhakaran next month.

Before the commencement of the negotiations, Prof Peiris had told newsmen that all negotiations and the establishment of an interim administration would be “strictly within the constitution and within a unitary state”.


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