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Friday, 21 December, 2001, 16:17 GMT
Analysis: Sri Lankan peace process stirring
Sri Lankan troops
The Christmas ceasefire should bring relief all round
By the BBC's Priyath Liyanage

The Sri Lankan government has reciprocated the month-long ceasefire announced by the Tamil Tigers rebels.

The rebels announced their ceasefire on the day the new parliament led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe met for the first time.

The country is once again wrapped in an euphoria of hope for peace

The prime minister is also due to visit India over the weekend. He has said his visit will mainly be about the peace initiative.

So is it really a time for peace in Sri Lanka?

Mr Wickramasinghe's United National Front (UNF) won the elections after a campaign in which he promised a peaceful solution to the civil war.

Throughout the campaign, he and his party were accused by their rivals of selling out to the Tamil Tigers.

President Kumaratunga's People's Alliance (PA) accused the UNF of having reached a secret pact with the Tamil rebels.

Peace overtures

In his speech on Tiger Martyrs Day in November, Tiger leader Prabhakaran asked the people to "vote against racist elements and vote for peace".

PM Ranil Wickramasinghe
Wickramasinghe is determined to move the peace process on

Tamils in the island's north and the east voted for the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

Analysts say the TNA had the blessings of the Tamil Tigers.

Much of the rest of the country gave a mandate to the UNF.

In the ceasefire announcement issued on Friday, the government says they are responding to the overwhelming mandate for peace given to them.

The government is under pressure from several fronts to pursue peace.

Apart from the people, fatigued after nearly 20 years of war, the international community is also putting pressure for a peaceful solution.

It had been a condition of the Western donor countries.

For their part, the Tamil Tigers did not set any pre-conditions in their ceasefire announcement.

Eric Solheim
Norwegian diplomats are again active behind the scene

They only mentioned the economic embargo in the north of the country - the government has indicated steps to relax that embargo.

Mr Wickramasinghe's visit to India is significant because he has always insisted that a peaceful solution in Sri Lanka would require the blessings of its giant neighbour.

A delegation from the TNA is already in India prior to the visit by the prime minister.

Cautious optimism

Norwegian Government sources have also confirmed they are involved in the current moves for peace.

The Norwegians, led by diplomat Eric Solheim, were involved in the process until a few months ago.

Then Sri Lanka's last government decided to give up its peace efforts and fighting resumed in full force.

But the actions of the new government in Sri Lanka during its first week in office have boosted the confidence of the people.

It has clearly indicated an understanding with the rebels as the government has removed many military checkpoints around the country.

Also, some roads in the high security zones were reopened after nearly a decade.

Now, all indications are for another round of peace talks with the hope of ending the civil war which has caused over 60,000 deaths.

The war has been a burden on the economy of one of the poorest countries of the world.

The country is once again wrapped in an euphoria of hope for peace.

But people are aware of the many occasions when peace seemed just round the corner before conflict resumed.

See also:

21 Dec 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka enters truce with rebels
19 Dec 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka rebels announce truce
19 Dec 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka's new parliament sworn in
12 Dec 01 | South Asia
Tamil Tiger attacks in Sri Lanka
27 Nov 01 | South Asia
Tigers leader says separatism not aim
30 Oct 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka arms offer to rebels
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