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Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 21:45 GMT
Analysis: Sri Lanka's fragile ceasefire
Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe (left) and Executive President Chandrika Kumaratunga
President Kumaratunga (r) opposes lifting the ban on rebels
By Priyath Liyanage of the BBC's Sinhala service

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe is due to go close to rebel-held areas in the north of the country on Friday on a historic mission to seal a peace process which had been gathering momentum since he was elected last December.


Lifting the ban on the Tigers has become an extremely controversial issue in the south of the country

The chief negotiator of the Tamil Tigers, Anton Balasingham, said on Thursday they had agreed for conditions of a permanent cease-fire.

But he said he would not sit down for talks until a ban on the Tamil Tigers is lifted.

He had also dismissed the prime minister's calls for face-to-face peace talks to begin in March.

Yet at the same time, Mr Balasingham announced that the Tigers' leader, Prabhakaran, had agreed to sign the memorandum of understanding over the ceasefire with the government.

Pressure

Lifting the ban on the Tigers has become an extremely controversial issue in the south of the country.

The main opposition in parliament, headed by executive President Chandrika Kumaratunga, has opposed lifting the ban as a precondition for talks.

A woman Tamil Tiger rebel
About 60,000 people have been killed in nearly 20 years of conflict
The president had been threatening to put pressure on the peace process, saying nothing could be done without her approval.

However, the government does not see her as a great obstacle as it is confident of popular support for its efforts for peace.

The Muslim minority parties, on the other hand, are demanding a role in the discussions and in the implementation of any agreement.

There are also extreme elements on both sides who are against any kind of concessions being given to the other side.

Some of the Tamil groups who exploited the war for their political and economical advantage have so far been silent about the peace moves.

There are also groups which have been fighting alongside the government troops against the Tamil Tiger rebels and would face an uneasy future if peace prevailed.

Pitfalls

The calls for disarming them have been ignored so far.

The government spokesman, GL Pieris, told a press conference on Thursday that they are aware of the difficulties and pitfalls on the road to peace.

There are pressures from the opposition, who claim that they have been kept in the dark about the details of the peace deal.

There are also accusations that the Tigers have continued to force young people to join their ranks.

The peace process is set to be a long, hard one.

In January, the prime minister himself admitted that it would be months or even years before there would be peace in Sri Lanka.

See also:

21 Feb 02 | South Asia
Peace deal in Sri Lanka
30 Jan 02 | South Asia
Spartan life under Tamil Tigers
30 Jan 02 | South Asia
Future of Tigers 'in the army'
29 Jan 02 | South Asia
Up close with the Tamil Tigers
23 Jan 02 | South Asia
The scars of Sri Lanka's war
21 Jan 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka rebels release war prisoners
21 Jan 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka matches Tigers ceasefire
16 Jan 02 | South Asia
In the Tamil Tiger heartland
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