SLUG: 2-285821 CQ Sri Lanka/Ceasefire (L-O)
TITLE= SRI LANKA / CEASE-FIRE / L-ONLY
DATELINE= NEW DELHI
/// RE-RUNNING TO CLARIFY TITLE, IN SECOND SENTENCE OF TEXT -- G-L PEIRIS IS CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS MINISTER; NO OTHER CHANGES ///
INTRO: Sri Lanka's government says it is working out details for a permanent cease-fire with Tamil Tiger rebels, that could pave the way for peace talks to end Sri Lanka's 18-year old civil war. V-O-A's Jim Teeple reports from our South Asia bureau in New Delhi, the statement follows comments from Sri Lanka's army chief, calling for the integration of Tamil Tiger rebels into the country's armed forces -- if a final peace deal is ever reached.
TEXT: Optimism is growing in Sri Lanka that a long-lasting cease-fire deal is possible. Sri Lanka's Constitutional Affairs Minister, G-L Peiris told reporters in Colombo Wednesday, his government is committed to a permanent cease-fire. He says he is confident an agreement will soon be finalized.
Both Sri Lanka's government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or the Tamil Tigers, have declared separate cease-fires that expire in February. Norwegian diplomats have been working to turn the cease-fires it into a permanent structured agreement leading to peace talks. On Tuesday Anton Balasingham, the head Tamil Tiger negotiator, said he believed a permanent cease-fire could be signed by February 24th.
Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu is the Executive Director of
the Center for Policy Alternatives, an independent Colombo public policy research organization. He says both sides are serious about setting the stage for peace talks.
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The focus of the Norwegian effort at the moment and the concerns of both the government and the L-T-T-E is to transform their unilateral declarations - declaring cease-fires -- into a stable structured agreement and use that as the basis for further progress as far as the peace process is concerned.
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Movement towards ending Sri Lanka's long-running civil war picked up steam following the December 5th election won by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Since then the government has eased an economic embargo of Tamil-majority areas. Mr. Wickremesinghe also says he will consider meeting a key demand of the rebels who say a ban on the Tamil Tigers must be lifted before peace talks can begin.
/// OPT /// Previous efforts to start talks with the rebels failed after President Chandrika Kumaratunga said talks should start before a ban on the group could be lifted. Mrs. Kumaratunga also expressed a reluctance to negotiate a truce with the Tamil Tigers, saying she believed they had used previous cease-fires to consolidate their military gains. /// END OPT ///
Sri Lanka's army commander, Lieutenant General Lionel Balagalle added momentum to the cease-fire effort on Wednesday, when he said the Tamil Tigers should be integrated into Sri Lanka's military -- if and when a permanent peace agreement is signed. General Balagalle said the military backed government efforts to bring a peaceful end to Sri Lanka's civil war. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu says General Balagalle's comments are a welcome and significant development.
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It is an extraordinary statement at one level but at the same it is also welcome and constructive to realize the current Army commander is thinking that way ahead into the future. I think a lot of things have to happen before that but that it can be interpreted as some kind of change or be symbolic or symptomatic of a change - a paradigm shift if you like within the military and security establishment is entirely to be welcomed.
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While he says Sri Lanka's military must be ready to help assimilate its former enemies into society, General Balagalle also says if a peace process breaks down, the military will continue fighting the Tamil Tigers. More than 64-thousand people have died since Sri Lanka's civil war began in 1983. (Signed)
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