15 Apr 2002
BENTOTA, Sri Lanka: Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said Monday Sri Lanka was considering lifting a ban on Tamil Tiger rebels ahead of face-to-face peace talks scheduled to take place in Thailand in May or June.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had raised the deproscription as a key issue before political negotiations begin and the government was willing to consider it favourably, the prime minister said. "We have to consider removing the ban on the LTTE without affecting the international ban (on the organization)," he said.
"It is a matter raised by the LTTE and we have to give (it) serious consideration," Wickremesinghe said, adding the government was prepared to discuss the matter in parliament.
His comments came as he held a meeting with the Norwegian deputy foreign minister Vidar Helgesen in the holiday resort of Bentota, 65 kilometres (40 miles) south of Colombo.
Norway is acting as a peace broker and Helgesen arrived in Sri Lanka Saturday to arrange logistics and an agenda for the negotiations.
"The progress (of the peace process) has been impressive. Several challenges lie ahead, but we have moved very fast in the past few months. What is important is not the speed but the direction. We are moving in the right direction," Helgesen said before he went into the meeting.
He said he would be travelling to the rebel-held Wanni region on Wednesday for talks with LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran on arranging the "talks about talks".
Helgesen described Prabhakaran's press conference last week, during which the rebel leader announced he was fully supportive of Norway's efforts to broker peace, as an important development.
The LTTE, which has been fighting for an independent homeland for the island's Tamil minority, is banned in a number of countries, including India, while the US has designated it a terrorist organisation.
The government and the Tigers entered into a formal ceasefire on February 23 to clear the way for the face-to-face talks.