Sri Lanka peace process 'irreversible'
By Kasra Naji
COLUMBO, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- War-torn Sri Lanka came yet another step closer to peace on Thursday when the government and the Tamil guerrillas, known as Tamil Tigers, agreed on "a federal model" as a way of ending their 20-year-old civil war.
At the end of their third round of peace talks in Oslo, both sides described the agreement as "a historic and a major breakthrough."
The government chief negotiator Lakshman Peiris said the agreement meant that the peace process was now irreversible. "It's a commitment to peace. There is not going to be war," he said.
Joining in, the Tigers' top representative Anton Balasingham said he totally agreed.
The Norwegian officials who have been tirelessly brokering the peace process said the agreement was a major milestone since February when the two sides signed a ceasefire agreement.
Both sides have made considerable concessions. The Tamil Tigers who have been fighting for a separate homeland for the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka have now formally committed themselves to autonomy in a federal system in an undivided Sri Lanka.
And the government dominated by Singhalese majority has said it is willing to concede "a substantial measure of autonomy to the Tamils."
The extent of the powers of the autonomous region, its geographical boundaries, as well as democratic safeguards for people in the autonomous region are the issues which will now have to be taken up in the next round of peace talks planned for early January in Tokyo, diplomats said.
But there has been concern about the ability of the government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, which has been spearheading the peace efforts, to deliver on any final agreement that might be reached.
Any constitutional change needs the approval of at least two thirds of the members of parliament -- a majority the coalition government of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe does not enjoy.
The Opposition Peoples Alliance led by President Chandrika Kumaratunga has been sending conflicting signals about its views of the peace process. It had said it would not agree to a confederate solution.
"The agreement means that the two sides have now discarded the confederate model which would have meant parallel administrations, police and army and which would have been difficult to sell to some among the Singhalese majority," said one analyst who hailed the agreement as "fantastic for Sri Lanka."
Another concern has been the rocky relations between Prime Minister Wickremsinghe and President Kumaratunga.
The two are locked in an uneasy constitutional cohabitation that also gives the president the power to dismiss the government in spite of its majority in parliament.
Both the government and the Tamil Tigers have joined hands in the past months to appeal to the international community to help them bring immediate peace dividend to the people.
They have been keen to get the international community to assist with re-settling of one million refugees who are taking advantage of the ceasefire to go back to their homes in war-ravaged areas in the north and east of the island. They believe that economic development of these areas will deepen their truce and help them reach a lasting peace.
The agreement in Oslo came as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was in Tokyo to drum up international support for the peace process. "We will not allow it to fail and I know that with the full support of your government and people it cannot," he told his Japanese hosts.