|Truce gets underway with foreign backing
Unarmed soldiers could been seen on the streets of the northern town of Vavuniya, which lies on the front line of territory held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), as guns fell silent across Sri Lanka in line with the Norwegian-bordered ceasefire.
The formal bilateral truce went into effect on Saturday, although the LTTE had been observing a unilateral ceasefire since Christmas Eve, which the government had reciprocated.
It is the first step on the road to negotiations between the government and the LTTE, which has been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east.
The chief civil, administrator here, K. Ganesh, said the ceasefire agreement, which envisages confidence-building measures between the government and Tamil Tigers, will help ease the suffering of civilians.
There had been severe travel restrictions in this region because the authorities feared Tamil Tigers could go through the city on their way to the rest of the country to carry out bombings.
"People should feel a sense of normalcy with the ceasefire and that is happening now," Ganesh said.
Armoured personnel carriers were still on the pot-holed roads, but they were no longer displaying heavy weaponry.
The truce pact requires the LTTE to stop its suicide bombings and assassinations, and end destruction of civilian or military property, while government forces have to end attacks against the Tigers.
Representatives from Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland will arrive in Sri Lanka shortly to monitor the ceasefire.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told troops here Friday that the truce did not mean the end of the war but was a "small step" in the direction of peace talks.
A female army officer said: "We welcome the truce, but there is also a fear among many volunteers that they will be de-mobilised and be without a job very soon."
Her concerns were addressed to some extent by the prime minister who promised there would be no redundancies in the 120,000-strong military.
Wickremesinghes peace drive has received widespread international support with the Commonwealth, Britain, Canada, India, Japan and the United States all issuing statements backing the process.
US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "A political solution to this conflict in the context of an undivided Sri Lanka would be welcomed by the international community.
"If Sri Lankans constructively approach talks and show a willingness to compromise, we believe peace can return," he said.
Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon welcomed the historic truce as "an opportunity for lasting peace".
However, at home Wickremesinghe has encountered opposition from his bitter rival, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who has complained that she was not given adequate time to consider the truce deal.
Sri Lankas peace process has been complicated by parliamentary elections in December which saw Kumaratungas party suffer a humiliating defeat at the hands of Wickremesinghes party.
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