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Sri Lanka cool to Tamil Tiger plan

By CNN Correspondent Kasra Naji

Sri Lanka has been racked by civil war for more than two decades.
Sri Lanka has been racked by civil war for more than two decades.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- The Sri Lankan government has given a cool response to proposals by the Tamil Tiger rebels for a power-sharing arrangement aimed at kick-starting peace talks broken off in April.

A statement on Saturday said the rebel proposals differed fundamentally from the government proposal.

"While disparities between the positions of the parties are evident, the government is convinced that the way forward lies through direct discussion of the issues arising from both sets of proposals," said the statement.

The Tamil Tiger rebels are proposing an interim arrangement to end 20 years of ethnic war on the south Asian island.

In the proposal -- which they say could be discussed in detail in peace talks in early January -- they have demanded they be in control of the Tamil-dominated areas of northeast Sri Lanka.

The rebels' power-sharing demands, just made public, outlines their vision for a federal system of government in Sri Lanka which they say would allow the Tamil minority to live in peace with the Singhalese majority.

For the past two decades, the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) have been fighting with the government for a homeland for the Tamil minority, which they say is persecuted by the Singhalese majority.

More than 65,000 people have died and hundreds of thousands more have been maimed and injured, many of them civilians caught in the middle.

The rebels' eight-page document was handed over to the government by the Norwegian ambassador Hans Brattskar.

Norway is brokering the peace process between the Tigers and the government.

The document -- which could put the peace process back on tracks -- is notable for its mild demands and wordings, according to observers. The preamble says that peace is now "a real possibility."

It says the LTTE is determined to bring peace to "all persons" of Sri Lanka, noting "the political courage" of the government.

The Tigers are demanding an interim council in which they would have a majority with powers to collect tax and revenues, receive foreign loans, trade, and allocate land.

The council, which would run for five years while a permanent settlement is being negotiated, would practice secularism and the region will have its own judiciary.

Meeting the LTTE demands would be a major challenge for the government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, which has only a two-seat majority in Parliament.

A two-thirds vote is needed for constitutional changes. The opposition parties -- led by President Chandrika Kumaratunga -- have been agitating against the peace process, arguing the government is giving too many concessions to the rebels.

The prospects of the resumption of the peace talks come amid an air of pessimism over the chances of a lasting peace. The moderate tone of the rebel demands may again lift spirits made weary by war, according to observers.

Many areas in the north have been reduced to rubble, while suicide bombers have killed many people -- including government leaders -- in the south. The war stunted development of the country, driving away tourists.

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