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Sri Lankan Cease-Fire Goes Into Effect - 2002-02-23

An indefinite cease-fire agreement has come into force Saturday in Sri Lanka. The truce has won widespread international support and raised hopes that a peace process will get underway to end the two decade old civil war in the island nation. But it has met with some political opposition at home.

Unarmed soldiers could bespotted on the streets in the northern town of Vavuniya - a town lying on the edges of rebel-held territory in the north. Armored vehicles moved around the town, but their heavy weapons were missing.

A Scandinavian monitoring team is arriving Monday to monitor the cease-fire between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels.

The detailed truce agreement is more than just a measure to end fighting between the two sides. It also includes a range of measures to restore a normal life for civilians who have been caught in the two-decade old civil war.

It will allow free flow of non-military goods into rebel areas, and open up road and rail links in the conflict zone.

The cease-fire is being viewed as the first step towards negotiations between Tamil Tiger and the government for a long and lasting peace settlement. But both Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Norwegian mediators who have brokered the cease-fire warn that the path to peace will not be easy.

Mr. Wickremesinghe told soldiers the truce did not mean the two-decade old civil war had ended - but that a "small step" had been taken in the direction of peace talks.

Mr. Wickremesinghe also faces some domestic opposition to his peace moves. Already President Chandrika Kumaratunga - a longtime bitter political rival - has criticized the government for not giving her time to review the truce deal, and expressed concern about certain clauses in the ceasefire agreement. She has not spelled out what these clauses are.

The government has called her statement "incorrect", and said it is ready to debate the truce in parliament.

Some of majority Sinhalese also felt that the government may have given too many concessions to Tamil rebels.

However, the cease-fire has been widely welcomed by several countries, including the United States, the Commonwealth nations, Japan and India.

Sri lanka's media has also supported the peace move, calling it an important milestone.

Meanwhile, Norway's ambassador to Sri Lanka has called on the international community to give Sri Lanka political and financial support to rebuild war-ravaged regions in the north and east, and boost economic development which has slowed down due to the huge war costs the country has been incuring.

Tamil Tiger rebels have waged a fierce guerrilla war since 1983, demanding a separate homeland for the country's minority Tamil community in the north and east.