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Sri Lanka Observes First Anniversary of Cease-Fire


Sri Lanka is observing the first anniversary of a cease-fire signed with Tamil Tiger rebels. It's been the longest period of peace since Tamil Tigers launched their struggle two decades ago for an independent homeland for the country's minority Tamil community.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe released doves, and religious leaders lit a huge oil lamp at a ceremony in Colombo to mark a year of peace.

In the past, worries about suicide bombings and military check points kept people at home in the evening. In the south, all that has changed. Tourists have returned, and hotels are doing brisk business.

But the situation is different in the north and east, where the civil war was waged. Armed rebels and troops still patrol these areas, and tens of thousands of families remain displaced.

Residents in the northern Jaffna peninsula held a two-hour protest to demonstrate that peace has not improved their lives.

The head of Colombo's independent Center for Policy Alternatives, Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, says, although the guns are silent, the pace of reconstruction and resettlement has been slow. "People in the north and east have to be given immediate relief and material relief from the ravages of war," he said. "They have set up sub-committees, etcetera, but that has not really been translated on the ground. There are whole issues and concerns here with regard to regenerating, revitalizing the economy in the north and east, and getting infrastructure projects as well on line."

Five rounds of peace talks have been held so far. The most significant achievement of the peace process came in December, when rebels agreed to accept regional autonomy, and gave up on demands for a separate homeland.

But many difficult issues remain to be resolved. The rebels have angrily dismissed suggestions that they should disarm. They have been accused of continuing to recruit child soldiers. Earlier this month three rebels caught smuggling illegal weapons committed suicide. It was the most serious truce violation so far.

Many political opponents remain skeptical about the final outcome of the truce, and criticize the government for making too many concessions to the rebels.

Mr. Saravanamuttu says political opponents feel that the truce has given the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or the LTTE, an opportunity to regroup and re-arm. The political opposition is arguing that the idea of federalism will divide the country, that the government is really not negotiating with the LTTE, but conceding to the LTTE, and allowing the LTTE, through the ceasefire agreement, to consolidate and establish its control in the north and east," he said.

Despite the concerns, confidence in the peace process remains high. Encouraged by the truce, foreign donors have promised millions of dollars in aid to rebuild the country, if the two parties to the truce remain committed to solving the ethnic conflict. Political analysts say, the promise of help from the international community has raised the stakes for both sides to stick to the path of peace, and not return to a conflict that ravaged the economy and killed more than 60,000 people.

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