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Monday, 21 January, 2002, 15:42 GMT
Sri Lanka rebels release war prisoners
Sri Lankan troops
Both sides appear keen to revive the peace process
By the BBC's Frances Harrison in Kilinochchi

Tamil Tiger rebels fighting the Sri Lankan Government have released 10 prisoners of war in what they say is a goodwill gesture to promote peace.

The Tigers and the government are both observing a ceasefire which they hope to make permanent and the government has started allowing journalists into rebel-controlled areas.

Of the released prisoners of war, three are soldiers from the Sri Lankan army and the remainder seamen from captured merchant vessels.

Boy with firewood on trishaw
Hardships should ease up now

They were released to a delegation of peace activists from the south of the country.

Wearing brand new shirts the prisoners looked serious as they were told by the Tamil Tigers to carry a message home that other young men should not be lured into fighting in the country's civil war.

But some of them broke down in tears after being reunited with relatives they feared they had never see again.

Peace process

The leader of the Tigers political wing, Tamil Chelvan, told the prisoners they were being freed as a goodwill gesture towards promoting peace.

Some of the prisoners had been in custody for more than eight years.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe
Prime Minister Wickramasinghe bullish on peace

The release follows a move by the government last week to ease the economic embargo on rebel-controlled territory.

The government said it was a humanitarian gesture aimed at improving the lives of up to 500,000 Sri Lankan Tamils who live in rebel areas to the north of the country.

The Tigers have welcomed the easing of the embargo calling it a positive signal but they say negotiations are currently underway over further steps to create the right conditions for dialogue.

There is no doubt the Sri Lankan people want an end to the two-decade-long civil war.

There is real optimism the two sides might now finally come to the negotiating table.

See also:

21 Jan 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka matches Tigers ceasefire
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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