Sri Lankan President Junius Jayewardene and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi yesterday signed a long-awaited peace accord aimed at ending Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict. But with many details yet to be decided, there is uncertainty over whether the accord will be carried out.
There has been violent opposition to the agreement among Buddhist and Sinhalese groups in many parts of Sri Lanka. At least 40 people have died in antigovernment riots in the last few days.
Mr. Jayewardene's unexpected peace offer, which became public late last week, granted what has been the main demand of Tamil militants: the merger of Sri Lanka's northern and eastern provinces into one provincial unit.
The Sinhalese majority, who are mostly Buddhists, have tended to oppose any political concession to the Tamil minority for fear it would divide the country. Jayewardene's Cabinet is divided, with Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa leading those opposed. Parliament is expected to vote on the accord later this month.
In a significant development, the main Tamil rebel group, Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE), reportedly softened its stand on the accord after a discussion with Mr. Gandhi late Tuesday. The LTTE had earlier expressed ``reservations'' over several issues, mainly the provision to surrender its arms within 72 hours of signing the pact.
There now are signs that the Tamil leaders, whom India brought in from Jaffna Peninsula in northern Sri Lanka, may have been given assurances by Gandhi regarding the cease-fire timetable. India is acting as ``guarantor'' to ensure the accord's implementation on the ground.
According to The Hindu, a newspaper that reputedly has close contacts with the LTTE, Gandhi made references to Indian peace-keeping forces possibly being sent to Sri Lanka to enforce a cease-fire. The Hindu also suggested that the Indian government envisions a political role for the LTTE and other Tamil organizations in the administration of the Tamil areas.
Tamils, who make up 18 percent of the country's 16 million people, want political autonomy and equal rights with the Sinhalese, who they say discriminate against Tamils. The rebels have been fighting for a separate homeland they call ``Eelam.''