M S Jayasinghe, secretary of the ministry responsible for reconstruction, on Friday signed the pact on behalf of the government, and Norwegian peace brokers then took the document north to the separatist-held capital of Kilinochchi for the guerrillas to sign, Maithripala Sirisena, River Basin Development Minister, told a news conference.

Sri Lanka's influential Buddhist clergy, a powerful Marxist party and other key critics say the deal raises the separatists' legitimacy in the international community, boosting their separatist agenda and undermining Sri Lanka's sovereignty.

The Marxists pulled their 39 lawmakers out of President Chandrika Kumaratunga's ruling coalition over the issue, reducing the coalition to a precarious 81-seat minority in the 225-member parliament. The government could collapse if other parties side with the Marxists in a no-confidence vote.

The eight-page Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, says the body will be made up of a three-tiered system of committees to review and approve projects in the Tamil-majority north and east.

Working together

The parties are "resolved to work together in good faith and using their best efforts to deliver expeditious relief rehabilitation, reconstruction and development," the document said. The body aims to "facilitate and expedite the process of rebuilding the affected areas".
 

Donors wanted the deal to avoid
direct contact with the Tigers  

A representative from the government, Tigers and the Muslim community will figure in the highest committee, which will be tasked with formulating policy for the equitable allocation and disbursement of funds. Regional and district committees will be set up to execute the projects.

International donors had urged the parties to sign the deal, as many countries are reluctant to give the separatists money directly since they are branded as terrorists in many nations.

Opportunities

Kumaratunga has promoted the plan as a golden opportunity for the government to forge peace with the guerrillas as the country recovers from the 26 December tsunami, which struck both government and separatist-held areas and killed at least 31,000 people.

The separatists say areas under their control have been overlooked in reconstruction efforts and have demanded more say in how international donations for Sri Lankans are spent.

A 2002 ceasefire halted the nearly two-decade civil war between the Tigers and the government that left nearly 65,000 people dead. Subsequent peace talks have deadlocked.