Tamil rebel leader still wants separate state

 

The head of the Tamil Tigers made his first public appearance in 15 years yesterday to say he will not yet abandon the fight for an independent state.

"The struggle for political independence is the demand of Tamil people," said Mr Velupillai Prabhakaran, one of South Asia's most-wanted men, after emerging from his jungle hideout.

But he insisted his Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are "sincerely and seriously committed to peace," as demonstrated by their declared ceasefire after 18-years of fighting.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe today welcomed the rebel leader's remarks, saying it showed the rebels "are willing to work within the territorial integrity of the country". He expressed strong hopes for finding a political solution.

Mr Prabhakaran also expressed confidence a Norwegian-mediated peace process will succeed. "This is the first time a third party or government has involved itself in facilitating the peace process," Prabhakaran said of the more than two years of Norwegian efforts that culminated in a ceasefire agreement on February 22nd.

Mr Prabhakaran's Tamil Tigers have been fighting government forces since 1983 to create a separate homeland in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. The civil war, one of Asia's longest, has cost more than 64,000 lives.

The Tamil rebels and the government are scheduled to hold peace talks next month in Thailand.

But Mr Prabhakaran said there will be no talks until the government lifts a ban on his group, which has been declared a terrorist organisation in six countries, including the United States.