Wilby said: "I married the collective consciousness and history of a people, a man who embodied the Tamil psyche with all its strengths and  weaknesses, greatness and failings."

 

Peace talks

Five years of behind-the-scenes diplomacy by Norway resulted in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan government entering into formal peace talks in September 2002, with Balasingham leading the Tiger negotiators.

Erik Solheim, the Norwegian peace envoy, addressed Balasingham as "Excellency" during the formal opening ceremony at a resort hotel in Sattahip in Thailand at the time.

Even as the peace talks began, there were nagging concerns about the health of Balasingham, who was also diabetic, but Norway had stressed that he was fully capable of travelling.

Given the LTTE's lack of negotiators able to enter into crucial  discussions on more contentious political issues, diplomatic sources believed Balasingham's presence was extremely useful.

Prabhakaran's voice

"I am deeply sad that I am crippled by this illness, unable to contribute anything substantial towards the alleviation of the immense suffering and oppression of my people"

Anton Balasingham

Balasingham asserted his proximity to Velupillai Prabhakaran, head of LTTE, in April 2002 at a joint press conference inside Tamil-held territory when he said: "I am Mr Prabhakaran's voice."

Sri Lankan peace negotiators had described Balasingham as a ferocious delegate, who in February threatened to walk out of talks unless he got his way with a joint declaration issued at the end of talks in Celigny, Switzerland.

When Sri Lanka wanted the Oslo-arranged truce amended, Balasingham resisted.

He said: "What we told them is that this ceasefire is not just a document between two parties. The international community is involved. We can't just tear it up."

Health problems

Balasingham had earlier medical problems. In 1999, he gave Sri Lankan authorities the slip, taking a boat out of the country to get treatment abroad for kidney problems.

At the time, the Sri Lankan authorities had forbidden travel to anyone associated with the Tamil Tigers.

Last month, Balasingham lamented he had not been able to contribute to the Tamil cause sufficiently.

He said: "I am deeply sad that I am crippled by this illness, unable to contribute anything substantial towards the alleviation of the immense suffering and oppression of my people."

Six years ago, Norway intervened to take Balasingham from London to Oslo for a kidney transplant that possibly saved his life.