- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 25, 2001

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka Guns fell silent at the stroke of midnight yesterday as Sri Lanka marked the birth of Jesus with the first cease-fire in the 18-year war between the government and separatist Tamil Tigers.
The rebels called a unilateral cease-fire two weeks ago, and the government reciprocated last week. The fighting halt is to last at least a month.
"We have ordered our units on the front line to strictly observe the cease-fire," a senior military official said. "There will be no shelling or firing from our side, and hopefully the terrorists will also honor their promise."
Reports from the northern Wanni mainland, the headquarters of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), indicate that rebel leader, Velupillai Pirabhakaran, ordered combat units from his outfit to return to bases and camps. The LTTE has been fighting for a separate homeland for the minority Tamil community. The ethnic conflict has claimed more than 70,000 lives.
The government also announced that it would meet the second demand of the LTTE. From Jan. 15, when the minority Tamil community celebrates the religious festival Thai Pongal, the government will lift the economic blockade imposed on the rebel-controlled north and east of the country.
The LTTE has offered to extend the cease-fire.
"If the Sri Lankan government reciprocates positively to our goodwill gesture and ceases armed hostilities against our forces and takes immediate steps to remove the economic embargo and other restrictions, the LTTE will favorably consider extending the period of cease-fire to create cordial conditions for a stable peace and de-escalation," the LTTE said in a statement.
The lifting of embargo would mean free supply of antibiotics, anti-malarial drugs and several other life-saving drugs that were not allowed to be carried to the rebel-held region.

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