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Tamil leader calls for lifting of ban

Both the government and rebels are adhering to a ceasefire that began last month
Both the government and rebels are adhering to a ceasefire that began last month  

By CNN Correspondent Kasra Naji

MALLVI, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- Tamil Tiger rebels have proposed opening a major highway that links Sri Lanka to the Jaffna peninsula as their political leader called on the Sri Lankan government to end its ban of the group.

The Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam, or the LTTE, control the Wanni region, located between the main part of the island and the northern Jaffna peninsula. The highway runs through the Wanni region.

Pamil Chelvan, leader of the political wing of LTTE, proposed making the current ceasefire -- scheduled to last a month -- permanent.

But he said there would be no direct peace talks until the government of newly-elected Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe drops a legal ban on the groups.

Colombo regards the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organization.

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Chelvan said the Tamil Tigers must be treated as an "equal and legitimate partner in the talks," adding that all bans, embargoes, sanctions against the Tamil community would have to be lifted.

"Only when the Tamil minority is regarded in the most equitable manner with honor and dignity and enjoys the same rights and privileges of the Singhalese majority can peace talks proceed," he said.

Norway has worked as a facilitator between the government and LTTE, a role Wickremesinghe asked the European nation to resume after his election last month.

Peace talks had been expected to resume by March, and it was uncertain how the latest Tamil demands would impact the process.

Some have suggested the war on terrorism has made the Tamil Tigers more flexible in the peace process because LTTE is regarded as a terrorist organization by many nations, including the United States.

Chelvan indicated surprise at the rebels being branded terrorists, saying they have favored peace all along.

"Soon enough, truth will prevail," he said, adding he expects the international community to begin differentiating between terrorists and national liberation organizations, a label he affixes to LTTE.




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