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Saturday, 23 February, 2002, 23:35 GMT
Sri Lanka truce takes hold
Sri Lankan soldiers on parade
The army's support is crucial for peace to take hold
test hello test

By Frances Harrison
BBC correspondent in Sri Lanka
line

The Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe visited war-affected areas in the east of the island on Saturday - the first day of a permanent ceasefire with Tamil Tiger rebels.

The truce agreement, which includes international monitoring, is the first step towards a negotiated settlement of the ethnic conflict, which has killed more than 65,000 people.

Prime Minister Wickramasinghe visiting the front lines
The prime minister has been briefing soldiers
Mr Wickramasinghe addressed Sri Lankan soldiers in the east coast towns of Batticaloa and Trincomalee, a continuation of his trip to the north of the island on Friday.

He told the military peace would not be easy.

He said he knew there were doubts on both sides about the process, and where there was suspicion and fear, it was best to remain alert.

The idea behind these rare visits by a Sri Lankan prime minister to the conflict area is to reassure the military that their concerns are being taken into account.

Deep anxieties

Many soldiers believe the concessions the government is making to the Tamil Tigers will only help the rebels recruit fresh forces and capture more land.

And some are worried about their jobs if the army is scaled back because of peace.

The Prime Minister and the President of Sri Lanka
The president could make things difficult
But by contrast, members of Sri Lanka's Tamil minority are enthusiastic about the current peace process.

In Jaffna town at the northern tip of the island, more than 1,000 people are reported to have taken part in a peace march which began in a Catholic church, and ended in the main Hindu temple.

Those who took part said the idea was to ask for the blessings of God for the peace process.

Meanwhile, the government has denied accusations that the prime minister failed to consult the cabinet before signing the truce agreement with the Tigers.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who heads a rival political party, had accused the prime minister of undemocratic behaviour in failing to consult both her and the cabinet.

See also:

23 Feb 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka truce raises hopes
23 Feb 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka awaits peace
22 Feb 02 | South Asia
Text of Sri Lanka truce deal
22 Feb 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka seals truce deal
22 Feb 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka's historic step hailed
22 Feb 02 | South Asia
Ceasefire signed in Sri Lanka
21 Feb 02 | South Asia
Analysis: Sri Lanka's fragile ceasefire
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