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Relief in Sri Lanka as Government, Tamil Rebels Choose to Uphold Truce


There is widespread relief in Sri Lanka after the government and Tamil Tiger rebels decided to uphold a tottering cease-fire. The agreement followed two days of peace talks in Geneva the first between the two sides in nearly three years.

The Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels issued a joint statement after their talks ended late Thursday in Geneva about their strained cease-fire. The statement was brief but promising: they agreed to respect and uphold the four-year-old truce and meet again in April to discuss a more lasting peace.

Rohan Edresinghe, a director at Colombo's Center for Policy Alternatives, says the news has reassured a country where worries about slipping back into war have been running high. "Most people in Sri Lanka, particularly the Tamil people in the north and the east, will be very relieved that for the moment there is no prospect of resumption of hostilities," he said.

The government and Tamil Tigers have addressed the most pressing problem threatening the truce - an upsurge of violence that has killed more than 120 soldiers and civilians since the election of a hard line president in November.

The rebels say they will refrain from acts of violence against the military, and the government has agreed to a key rebel demand of cracking down on paramilitary groups - including a breakaway rebel group, which the Tamil Tigers say is targeting their supporters.

Edresinghe says the government and the rebels, also known as the LTTE, did appear to try to find common ground in Geneva, despite the deep distrust at the start of the talks. "The government delegation included several hawks, or hardliners," he said, "and the fact that they sat down with the LTTE delegation and agreed to meet again will be seen as some sort of restoration of confidence or building up of a relationship, if you like."

While this Geneva round of talks has saved the cease-fire for the coming months, there are huge obstacles to getting the peace process back on track. The government has ruled out a core rebel demand for an autonomous homeland; the rebels say they will resume war if they are offered anything less.

The 2002 truce brokered by Norway ended a devastating two-decade long ethnic conflict and led to talks in which the rebels relinquished their fight for independence. But fights over the pace and process toward some Tamil autonomy prompted the rebels to pull out of peace talks in 2003.

The 2004 devastating Indian Ocean tsunami only increased tensions when the Tamils and government argued over distribution over relief and reconstruction aid.