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Sri Lanka To Allow Press into Areas

April 23, 2001 GMT

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Sri Lanka said Sunday it will allow journalists into areas held by Tamil separatists following the wounding of an American reporter as she tried to return to government-held territory.

However, the journalists will travel in the rebel-held territory at their own risk, said Ariya Rubasinghe, director of government information.

``Journalists can go, we have not debarred them, but they must be fully aware of and accept the risk to their lives,″ Rubasinghe said.

Local and international media rights groups urged the government to relax restrictions after Marie Colvin, an Oyster Bay, N.Y. native working for Britain’s Sunday Times, was caught in gunfire on April 16.

Colvin was wounded in the cross fire when an army patrol spotted her and the group of rebels escorting she was traveling with as they tried to enter government-held Vavuniya, 130 miles north of the capital, Colombo.

In the past, journalists have had to obtain written permission from the defense ministry to travel to rebel-held areas. Authorization was rarely given except to those accompanied by the military.

Rubasinghe said the government could not provide protection for journalists or act as a go-between for rebels and journalists.

``They must settle it themselves with the terrorists because we have no say over matters on their side,″ he said.

The rebels have been fighting since 1983 for a Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka’s north and east. More than 63,000 people have died in the war.