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Sri Lanka, Tamil Tigers agree to truce

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected on a promise to open peace talks with the LTTE
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected on a promise to open peace talks with the LTTE  

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- Peace talks are one step closer in Sri Lanka after the government said it would match a one-month ceasefire declared by Tamil Tiger rebels.

Government troops will observe a month-long unilateral truce starting at midnight on Christmas Eve, December 24, to correspond with the month-long cease-fire the rebels announced Wednesday, the office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said.

The statement said it was a good will measure made to facilitate peace on the island nation.

The Liberations Tigers of Tamil Eelam declared their cease-fire Wednesday following the election of a new government earlier this month on a mandate to reopen peace talks with the guerrillas.

Wickremesinghe swept to power on a pledge to begin talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam who have been fighting for 18 years for a separate minority Tamil state in Sri Lanka's north and east.

The government also said as part of its initiative to invigorate the peace process, it will take immediate steps to improve the living conditions of civilians in areas controlled by the rebels.

Sri Lanka: A nation divided 
Sri Lanka timeline 

This will cover tens of thousands of Tamils who have been living under a strict economic embargo imposed by the government in those areas.

"As part of its initiative to bring about an atmosphere conducive to invigorating the peace process, the government will take immediate steps to improve living conditions for civilians in the uncleared [rebel-held] areas," the statement said.

The Liberations Tigers of Tamil Eelam declared a similar Christmas truce last year and extended it for four months.

But the then government of President Chandrika Kumaratunga refused to follow suit, rejecting the ceasefire as a ploy.

More than 60,000 people have died in the conflict with the impact of the fighting on the island's battered economy running into billions of dollars.

Since coming to power the new government has set up three committees to oversee moves towards bringing an end to the fighting.

Officials say one committee will advise the prime minister on a political settlement, the second will lay out the groundwork for negotiations, while the third will tackle any crisis thrown up during the talks.

-- CNN Correspondent Kasra Naji contributed to this report


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