Colombo, Sept. 4 (Reuters): The Sri Lankan government decided today to lift a ban on the island’s Tamil Tiger rebels, ignoring opposition from the President and honouring a pledge before the two sides begin peace talks this month.
“Tilak Marapana informed the Cabinet that it would be lifted from midnight tonight,” a Cabinet minister said today, referring to the defence minister who must approve the decision because the ban is under the ministry’s Prevention of Terrorism Act.
The government had said it would lift the ban at least 10 days before the September 16 talks begin even though President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who is elected separately, has demanded that the ban stay in place until the talks show solid progress.
The LTTE, fighting for a separate Tamil state, had said there would be no talks unless the ban was lifted.
Kumaratunga’s stance has put her at odds with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the rivalry has threatened to mar a peace process that put a truce in place and brought about the first face-to-face talks in more than seven years.
The ban has been an emotional issue for Sinhalese nationalists as well as the LTTE since it was imposed in early 1998 after the Tigers launched a suicide bomb attack on the island’s holiest Buddhist shrine in the central town of Kandy. The nationalists say the lifting of the ban will mean that other countries such as the US, which has also outlawed the Tigers, will follow suit.
But US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Ashley Wills has said the US will not be lifting its ban anytime soon.