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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 08:21 GMT
Tamil Tigers want ban lifted
Civilians in north
An economic embargo was lifted in the north
Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka have demanded that a ban on them be lifted ahead of Norwegian-brokered peace talks.

The ban has been in place since 1998 and the Tigers say they will only enter any dialogue as a "legitimate" organisation.

The demand came after the Sri Lankan Government acceded to another rebel condition by easing an economic blockade on Tamil Tiger-held territory.

The lifting of the seven-year embargo allows food, medicines and other goods to enter the northern rebel-controlled area of the country, known as the Vanni.

Peace moves

The leader of the rebels' political wing, SP Thamilselvan, met journalists in the northern town of Mallavi in a rare public appearance.

He said that it was up to the new government headed by Ranil Wickramasinghe to remove the ban on his organisation.

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

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

Mr Thamilselvan also called for a permanent ceasefire to be agreed and, on the government side, practical confidence-building measures like the reopening of the main highway through the Tamil Tiger area up to Jaffna.

He added that meaningful negotiations would only take place once the ban on the Tamil Tigers as a political organisation was lifted so that they could sit down as equal partners with the government.

Venue

Mr Thamilselvan described southern India as an ideal location for talks as it had the medical facilities necessary to accommodate Mr Anton Balasingham, the Tamil Tigers' chief negotiator who has had a kidney transplant.

He added that the proximity of southern India to Sri Lanka and the Vanni would allow easy access for Mr Balasingham to confer in person with the supreme leader of the Tamil Tigers, Velupillai Prabhakaran.

However, the Tamil Nadu government in southern India has already voiced its opposition to such an arrangement - the Tamil Tigers are banned in India and accused of assassinating the former prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi.

Mr Thamilselvan added that when a permanent ceasefire was in place and his security could be guaranteed, then Mr Prabhakaran would emerge out of his hiding place to meet the press.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Frances Harrison
"The issue is a very sensitive one"
See also:

15 Jan 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka eases rebel embargo
10 Jan 02 | South Asia
Norway opens Sri Lanka peace talks
05 Jan 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka leader backs peace moves
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