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Monday, 21 January, 2002, 12:23 GMT
Sri Lanka matches Tigers ceasefire
Boys in a LTTE-controlled village, Mallavi
Tamil areas are benefiting from the easing of the embargo
The Sri Lankan Government has said that it will extend a ceasefire for a month, matching the unilateral extension made by the Tamil Tigers on Sunday.

The announcement comes as Norway continues efforts to initiate direct peace talks between the two sides.

A Tamil Tiger rebel
Both sides will observe a truce until 24 February
The current ceasefire had been due to expire on Thursday, but it will now extend until 24 February.

A government statement said that in order to provide Norway time "to facilitate a mutually agreed ceasefire between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)".

The LTTE announced their unilateral truce on 24 December in a move quickly followed by the government - the first time in seven years that both sides observed a ceasefire at the same time.

Hope for peace

The government has eased its seven-year embargo on goods, food and medicines entering the northern rebel-controlled area of the country.

Restrictions on fishing in the troubled waters of the island's north-east have also been eased, bowing to a long-standing demand by local fishermen.

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

Hopes for peace brightened after the election of Ranil Wickramasinghe's United National Party last month.

Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister, Vidar Helgesen, who met Sri Lankan leaders and the rebels, said there was an increased level of confidence between the two sides.

"We are convinced that there are opportunities to move further step by step towards negotiations", he said.

Stumbling bloc

But the LTTE has made it clear that it will not enter any discussions unless the government lifts a ban on the organisation.

It was outlawed in January 1998 after suspected rebels bombed Buddhism's holiest shrine in the central town of Kandy killing 16 people.

The United States listed the LTTE as a foreign terrorist organisation 1997, followed by Britain three years later.

India also imposed a ban on LTTE after suspected Tiger rebels assassinated former Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, in 1991.

Some politicians argue that an end to the ban at home will help the Tigers lobby for getting proscriptions abroad lifted.

See also:

21 Jan 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka rebels release war prisoners
16 Jan 02 | South Asia
Tamil Tigers want ban lifted
15 Jan 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka eases rebel embargo
11 Jan 02 | South Asia
Optimism over Sri Lanka peace
10 Jan 02 | South Asia
Norway opens Sri Lanka peace talks
10 Jan 02 | South Asia
Norway peace team in Sri Lanka
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