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Tuesday, 15 January, 2002, 12:49 GMT
Sri Lanka eases rebel embargo
Civilians in north
Life should become a little easier for civilians
The Sri Lankan Government has eased its seven-year embargo on goods, food and medicines entering the northern rebel-controlled area of the country, known as the Vanni.


We are taking this on a step by step basis, and trying to consolidate each step

Economic Reforms Minister Milinda Moragoda
Government ministers and army chiefs went to the frontline on Tuesday to witness the measure, a key step in the revival of the peace process in Sri Lanka.

Easing the economic blockade on rebel-held territory was set as a condition by the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels for peace talks.

Hopes for peace have brightened after the election of Ranil Wickramasinghe's United National Party last month, with the new government reciprocating a truce offer by rebels.

Norway recently resumed its role as a mediator between the Tigers and the government.

Long wait

The main entrance into the Tamil Tiger stronghold is a small, heavily-guarded checkpoint on a dusty dirt road.

Items still banned
Explosives
Firearms
Remote-controlled toys
Batteries
Barbed wire
Binoculars

The BBC's Anna Horsburgh-Porter said a long queue of people - men, women and children - were on the Tamil Tiger side of the checkpoint waiting to be allowed through.

Some of them said they had spent 24 hours travelling the 80 km kilometres to reach the front line.

There is no form of public transport in the Vanni and the roads are extremely bad.

Half-a-mile away, in no-man's land, 50 trucks loaded with bicycles, car tyres, cooking pots, electric cables and other goods were standing ready.

Vanni is a vast swathe of land across the north of Sri Lanka and has been the site of ferocious battles between the Tamil Tigers and government troops.

Hope for future

The International Committee of the Red Cross co-ordinated the movement of these goods, bringing their own vehicles out of the Vanni to load up and return.

The operation was watched by the commander-in-chief of the Sri Lankan army, who said he was hopeful of finding a permanent peace now that restrictions had been lifted.

But he added that he also expected some response by the Tamil Tigers to these government concessions.

A group of journalists has been allowed into the Vanni along with the convoy and is expected to meet the political leader of the Tamil Tigers, Tamil Selvan, on Wednesday.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Anna Horsburgh-Porter
says local people are hopeful that the move will result in lasting peace
See also:

10 Jan 02 | South Asia
Norway opens Sri Lanka peace talks
05 Jan 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka leader backs peace moves
04 Jan 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka's Tigers start talks
03 Jan 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka wants ceasefires strengthened
02 Jan 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka eases Tamil embargo
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