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Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 12:42 GMT
Norway peace team in Sri Lanka
Aftermath of rebel attack on Colombo airport
An attack on Colombo airport shattered tourism
A Norwegian peace delegation has arrived in Sri Lanka to help revive talks to end the country's long-running civil war.

The team, led by Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen, is due to meet Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe and his foreign minister.


What we are going to do first is to formalise the ceasefire

Constitutional Affairs Minister G Peiris
Hopes for peace have brightened after the election of Mr Wickramasinghe's United National Party last month, with the new government reciprocating a truce offer by the separatist Tamil Tigers.

Earlier peace attempts failed with the previous government of Chandrika Kumaratunga accusing the Norwegians of favouring the rebels.

Peace hopes

The new government also met another rebel condition as a prelude to peace talks - easing an economic blockade on rebel-held territory.

Ranil Wickramasinghe
Wickramasinghe's election has led to fresh hope
"What we are going to do first is to formalise the ceasefire through a document that is acceptable to both sides," Constitutional Affairs Minister Gamini Peiris said.

" The help of the Norwegians in this regard will be enormously useful."

But any peace deal would require the approval of Ms Kumaratunga - who remains the country's president.

Norway has been trying to broker talks between the two sides for the past three years, but has still not been able to facilitate a direct meeting.

Last week, a Norwegian team met the rebels' chief negotiator, Anton Balasingham, in London and later described the talks as "constructive".

Venue blow

The Tigers were also reported to have indicated a desire for talks to be held in Madras, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.


The [Tamil Tigers are] an extremist outfit banned by the federal government

Tamil Nadu chief minister
But on Thursday the chief minister of Tamil Nadu said his government will not allow the Tigers to use Madras as a venue for peace talks.

Chief Minister Panneer Selvam, said: "The [Tamil Tigers are] an extremist outfit banned by the federal government. There is no possibility of allowing the Tigers to have a base here for conducting their talks with the Sri Lankan Government."

Mr Selvam said he would be writing to the central government to inform them of his view. There has been no response so far from India on the issue.

Violence

The current ceasefire, which began on 24 December, is due to last one month and is the first time in seven years that both sides have observed a halt in hostilities.

Last July the Tigers carried out one of their most audacious raids, targeting the country's only international airport in the capital, Colombo, and an adjacent military base in an attack that left at least 18 people dead.

See also:

22 Dec 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka seeks Indian support
21 Dec 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka enters truce with rebels
09 Dec 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka's new PM sworn in
12 Dec 01 | South Asia
Tamil Tiger attacks in Sri Lanka
07 Dec 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Sri Lanka's hopes for unity
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