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Sri Lanka, Tamil Rebels Agree Peace is Important for Economy - 2002-09-17

In a second day of peace talks, Sri Lankan government and rebel Tamil negotiators agree that economic recovery and development are the foundation for a lasting peace for their nation.

Both sides describe the Sri Lanka peace talks as friendly. The negotiators are locked away at a naval base southeast of Bangkok to try to end the war.

These are the first formal peace talks between the Tamil rebels and the government in seven years. Earlier dialogues have ended in failure that only escalated the conflict, which has killed more than 60,000 people. A Norwegian brokered cease-fire has been in effect in Sri Lanka since February and Norwegian mediators are taking part in the talks in Thailand.

The chief government negotiator, G.L. Peiris, says the talks are laying a foundation to build upon and he feels confident the talks can succeed. Monday, he said the government wants peace and the economic benefits it brings.

"The formidable task of reconstruction and rehabilitation has commenced in earnest," Mr. Peiris said. "The benefits flowing from these developments in terms of enhanced investment in many wider sectors of the economy, including tourism, trade and infrastructure, have percolated to every segment of the community and amply enriched their lives."

The chief Tamil negotiator, Anton Balasingham, says the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam also desire peace. Ethnic Tamils have been fighting for a separate homeland in northern Sri Lanka since 1983. The Tamil Tigers say the majority Sinhalese population discriminates against the Tamil minority.

"As far as the Liberation Tigers are concerned, I can assure you that we are seriously and sincerely committed to peace and that we will strive our utmost to ensure the success of the negotiations," Mr. Balasingham said.

Officials say a full peace settlement may take months or even years, as both sides hammer out their differences.

Government negotiator Mr. Peiris says his government will strive to end the war, but wants to keep the country intact.

"But these reforms must necessarily be effected within the framework of a state whose unity and territorial integrity is enshrined in fact and in law," he said. The peace talks end Wednesday. The negotiators are expected to set a date for the next round of talks, which are likely to be held twice a month.