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Sri Lanka lifts ban on LTTE

By RAVI R. PRASAD

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Sept. 5 (UPI) -- The Sri Lankan government Thursday lifted the ban on the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, fulfilling the key condition laid by the guerrillas for the peace talks scheduled to be held in Thailand this month.

Ignoring the objections by President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the hardliners of the majority Sinhala community, Defense Minister Tilak Marapane issued a notification he was lifting the four-year-old proscription of the LTTE starting at midnight Wednesday.

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The government had imposed a ban on the LTTE in January 1998 after the guerrillas attacked the most revered Buddhist shrine in the country. Suicide cadres of the LTTE had bombed the temple of the Tooth Relic in central town of Kandy as preparations were underway to celebrate the golden jubilee of country's independence from British rule. After the attack, the government shifted the venue of the celebrations to the capital Colombo, where Britain's Prince Charles was the chief guest.

The de-proscription of the Tamil Tiger outfit was the main demand of the LTTE for coming to the negotiating table. The guerrillas had told the government that they would not enter into any peace talks as an illegal organization.

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Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had announced the ban would be lifted 10 days ahead of the talks in Thailand. Thursday's action paves the way for the first round of negotiations to end the protracted ethnic conflict that has claimed over 70,000 lives.

Kumaratunga was opposed to the de-proscription of the guerrillas, saying in a statement last week that the government should lift the ban only after there is some positive development in the peace talks.

However, the government had to lift the proscription for talks with the Tamil Tigers to take place.

The hard-line elements of the majority Sinhala community had opposed the government's move. Widespread demonstrations were held over the weekend to protest the decision, joined by a section of the influential Buddhist clergy. But the government chose to ignore these protests.

Meanwhile, Kumaratunga has indicated to the government that she would send her representative for the talks in Thailand. Kumaratunga's spokesman said the president would comment on the lifting of the ban after receiving a copy of the notification issued by the government.

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