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Peace hopes ease fears on Lanka national day

Colombo, Feb. 4 (Reuters): Children took part in Sri Lanka’s National Day today for the first time in years as the island’s growing peace process to end two decades of civil war eased security concerns.

A rare military parade was also held in Colombo to mark the anniversary of the Indian Ocean island's independence from Britain in 1948.

In the past, fears of suicide bomb attacks by Tamil Tigers had limited such parades and public participation in National Day ceremonies but the signing of a Norwegian-brokered truce by the government and rebels nearly a year ago changed that.

Special lighting was put up and national flags fluttered as student bands played and people gathered in the centre of the capital to hear a speech by President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

The President, who is elected separately and has been critical of the government’s peace plans, said more had to be done to ensure that all people supported the peace effort to permanently end the fighting that has killed 64,000 people. “We must strive to reach beyond the nice words and colourful photographs to the depths of the causes of the ethnic problem...” she said.

The ceremony comes just before the government and Tigers sit down in Germany for a fifth round of talks starting on Friday. The Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for a separate state in the north and east for minority Tamils. But last year they dropped their demand for a separate state and agreed with the government to discuss setting up a federal system that would give them regional autonomy.

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