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Thursday, 11 April, 2002, 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK
Sri Lanka prepared to lift Tiger ban
Tamil Tiger commanders
Tigers say they will end suicide bombings
The Sri Lankan Government has said it is prepared to accept a key demand by the Tamil Tigers and lift its ban on the rebel movement.

Ultimately our objective is to lift the ban and to get them into politics

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando

Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando said the timing of the move had yet to be decided.

Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran insisted on Wednesday the government must lift its four-year ban on his organisation before planned peace talks in May in Thailand.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe said after Mr Prabhakaran's historic statement that he saw a real chance of ending the country's bloody civil war.

Mr Wickramasinghe said the rebel leader's public rejection of new suicide bomb attacks created a "window of opportunity" for peace.

'Results soon'

Mr Fernando told the BBC the government was committed to bringing the Tigers into the mainstream, a day after Mr Prabhakaran's first news conference for 12 years.

"Ultimately our objective is to lift the ban and to get them into politics. It's just a question of timing," Mr Fernando said.

Ranil Wickramasinghe, prime minister of Sri Lanka
Prime minister: "Window of opportunity"

He would not say if the ban would be lifted before the May talks, but said the work of Norwegian peace mediators would yield results soon.

The foreign minister's comments came amid mounting optimism that an end may be in sight to almost two decades of civil war, that has left at least 65,000 people dead.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, however, said the Indian government would not lift a ban on the Tigers.

"We have no such intention," Mr Vajpayee told reporters on his return here from a five-day trip to Singapore and Combodia.

Mr Prabhakaran had called on Delhi to play a role in the peace talks, but Mr Vajpayee said India was "not going to be part" of any negotiations.

India banned the Tigers in 1991 after the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was blown up by a suicide bomber.

Historic briefing

While Mr Prabhakaran still called for a separate Tamil state, Mr Wickramasinghe said their leader had hinted he might settle for autonomy within Sri Lanka.

"The peace process can be intensified after yesterday's comments by Prabhakaran," the prime minister told Sri Lankan TV.

Eighteen years of war
Tamils allege discrimination by majority Sinhalese
About 64,000 people have been killed
India lost 1,200 troops when it intervened against the Tigers in the late 1980s
Current peace negotiated by Norway

The rebel leader had announced an end to "Black Tiger" operations - the suicide bombings which struck terror over the years into Sri Lanka and India alike.

Mr Prabhakaran called the historic briefing in the wake of a ceasefire agreed with government forces in late December.

Mr Wickramasinghe said he would not allow the ban to get in the way of the talks and the government would be "looking at its options".

Key to the talks is whether or not the Tigers will settle for greater autonomy within Sri Lanka.

Mr Prabhakaran said his forces would respond to any offers from the government although he added that the "right conditions" had still not emerged for abandoning the goal of complete independence.

The prime minister interpreted this as meaning the Tigers might accept autonomy - "an acceptable alternative to a separate state", as he put it.

The BBC's Adam Mynott
"The ceasefire has lasted four months now"
Sri Lanka cabinet spokesman G.L Peiris
"We have already made a useful beginning"
Norway's deputy foreign minister Vidar Helgesen
"The press conference was a significant event"
See also:

11 Apr 02 | South Asia
India will not lift Tiger ban
08 Apr 02 | South Asia
Key Sri Lanka road opens
29 Mar 02 | South Asia
Direct talks in Sri Lankan conflict
22 Feb 02 | South Asia
Ceasefire signed in Sri Lanka
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