Government Says Agreement Near With Tamils
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ The government is near agreement with moderate Tamils on President Junius R. Jayewardene’s proposal granting the minority limited autonomy and ending the ethnic conflict on the island, an official said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, residents of eastern Sri Lanka said 11 people were killed in fighting Tuesday and Wednesday. Tamil guerrillas also claimed to have killed three soldiers Wednesday.
″The points of dispute in the last rounds of discussion were not serious. We are almost at the point of reaching an agreement,″ Minister of State Anandatissa de Alwis told reporters after a Cabinet meeting.
A delegation from the moderate Tamil United Liberation Front political party, whose leaders have fled to India, will leave Madras, India, Thursday for Colombo and a second round of talks with Jayewardene next week.
Appapillai Amrithalingam, party general secretary, was not as confident at de Alwis.
″I cannot say I am hopeful,″ Amrithalingam said Wednesday night in Madras. ″We will continue our talks and see how far we can go. We are trying to reach a finalization if possible.″
Tamils comprise about 18 percent of Sri Lanaka’s 16 million population. Most Tamils are Hindus, and they say they are discriminated against by the majority Sinhalese, most of whom are Buddhist.
De Alwis said the latest government proposals should meet Tamil demands for more control of the regions in the north and east of the island nation where they predominate.
″We are giving them their own provincial councils, own police force, own governor, and power to run their own area,″ he said.
The stumbling block has been Jayewardene’s refusal to merge the two provinces into a single Tamil-speaking unit. The president says that would undermine the nation’s unity and amount to a separate state.
In Madras, Tamil leader V. Yogeswaran said: ″Anything short of a full linguistic state for the Tamils will be rejected out of hand by the Tamil people.″
De Alwis said any agreement reached with Tamil moderates would be submited to Parliament where it would require a two-thirds majority vote.
Tamil militants have boycotted the peace talks. But the Indian government is expected to pressure them not to interfere with a settlement.
Meanwhile, residents of Kalmunai village in Eastern Province, reached by telephone from Colombo, said Tamil guerrillas fired motars at the hamlet Wednesday, killing five people and destroying several homes and a rice mill.
The rebels later raided the village, 130 miles east of Colombo, and set fire to a gasoline depot and some homes, the residents said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
On Sunday, Kalmunai residents found the body of a Moslem farmer tied to a lamp post. Moslems subsequently looted and burned Tamil shops and homes in the village, and residents said the mortar attack apparently was retaliation.
Also, Batticaloa residents said soldiers searching for Tamil guerrillas on Tuesday killed four Tamil civilians, including a 55-year-old woman, in Puthukudirruppu village, 185 miles east of Colombo.
On Wednesday, soldiers shot at fleeing Tamil civilians in Konnathurai village and killed two men, they said.
Tamil leaders in India also claimed their forces killed three soldiers Wednesday in northern Sri Lanka.
A Defense Ministry spokesman could not confirm the reports.
More than 4,000 people have been killed in three years of ethnic strife on the tiny island off southern India.