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Sri Lanka Lifts Ban on Tamil Rebels - 2002-08-15


Sri Lanka's government says it will lift a four year ban on ethnic Tamil rebels. The announcement follows news that Sri Lanka's government and the rebels will hold formal peace talks next month in Bangkok, Thailand.

Just a day after Sri Lanka's government and ethnic Tamil rebels agreed to hold peace talks, a government spokesman told reporters in Colombo, the government will lift the four year ban on activity by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelaam also known as the Tamil Tigers.

The ban was imposed after Tamil Tiger rebels attacked a sacred Buddhist shrine in 1998 killing 26 people. The rebels had long called for a removal of the ban as a pre-condition for peace talks.

On Wednesday Norway announced both sides had agreed to hold formal peace talks in Bangkok next month. The Norwegian brokered talks are expected to focus on granting autonomy to Tamil majority areas. Sri Lankan government officials say they will not discuss a separate homeland for Tamils and the issue will not be on the agenda. More than 60,000 people have died since Sri Lanka's long running ethnic conflict began in 1983.

Norwegian diplomats have been trying for months to get both sides to agree to peace talks. In February, the government and the rebels agreed to establish a formal cease-fire. The breakthrough on peace talks reportedly came after government negotiators agreed to allow the Tamil Tigers to use a sea route along Sri Lanka's eastern shore to transport unarmed combatants.

Peace talks are expected to last several years. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has vowed to overcome opposition to the talks by President Chandrika Kumaratunga. The two share power in an uneasy coalition government. President Kumaratunga has said she might use her constitutional powers to dismiss the prime minister's government, a move the prime minister says he will try and get parliament to block by approving a constitutional amendment to limit the president's powers.

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