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Friday, 2 August, 2002, 10:18 GMT 11:18 UK
Boost for Sri Lanka peace hopes
Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka
Even the Buddhist clergy are backing peace efforts

There is fresh hope for peace in Sri Lanka after the most high-profile meeting yet between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels fighting for their own state in the north and east of the island.

Anton Balasingham
Anton Balasingham: Tiger chief negotiator
Talks in London towards the end of July between Economic Reforms Minister Milinda Moragoda and the Tiger chief negotiator Anton Balasingham were a clear effort to rejuvenate a process, which in recent months seemed to have run out of momentum.

The meeting ended with a statement expressing optimism about planned talks to be held later this year in Thailand.

After signing a ceasefire agreement in February, the peace process moved ahead very rapidly.

The borders between rebel-controlled territory and government areas were opened. The Tigers started opening political offices in government-controlled areas and the prime minister and other ministers visited the north.

The press conference held by the Tamil Tiger leader Vellupillai Pirabhakaran in April for the local and international media became one of the most important media events in the region.

Even the leaders of the Buddhist clergy - traditionally seen as opposed to any compromise with the Tamil rebels - have given their blessing to Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe's peace process.

There were even statements from the government about the possibility of lifting the ban on Tamil Tigers.

Problems emerge

But then the pace slackened and the two sides started accusing each other of trying to break the agreement.

Tamil Tiger
Both sides have accused each other of truce violations
The rebels complained that the security forces had not been evacuated from public buildings, schools and temples.

They also accused the government of preventing political activity in the islands off the coast of Jaffna.

The government accused the rebels of stockpiling new weapons, recruiting under-aged combatants in government-controlled areas and carrying out operations at sea.

The talks scheduled for July seemed impossible with disagreements and finger pointing on the increase.

Criticism

The government also came under heavy criticism from right-wing nationalist forces on the one hand, and President Kumaratunga on the other. There were calls made to revise the truce agreement.

Problems mounted as clashes erupted in the east of the island between Tamils and Sri Lanka's Muslim minority, throwing into doubt Muslim support for a process they had previously backed unequivocally.

But now both parties seem to have come back to the negotiating table as a result of relentless efforts by Norwegian negotiators. The Norwegians see the outlook as positive.

Though disputes about contents of the truce agreement are still to be ironed out between the two parties, the peace process does seem to be back on track - at least for the time being.


Peace efforts

Background

BBC SINHALA SERVICE

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TALKING POINT
See also:

28 Jul 02 | South Asia
16 Jul 02 | South Asia
14 Jul 02 | South Asia
08 Jul 02 | South Asia
29 May 02 | South Asia
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