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Friday, 11 January, 2002, 14:49 GMT
Optimism over Sri Lanka peace
Sri Lankan troops
The war had dragged on for 18 years
By Amal Jayasinghe in Colombo

Norwegian peace brokers have expressed cautious optimism after talks with Sri Lankan leaders on arranging a permanent ceasefire with Tamil Tiger rebels.

After talks in Colombo, the mediators, led by Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen, said there was an increased level of confidence between the two warring sides in Sri Lanka.

There seems to be willingness and commitment from both Wickramasinghe's new government and the LTTE to find common ground

Vidar Helgesen

But they warn the peace process will be challenging and difficult for both sides.

The expression of hope comes after two days of talks with Sri Lanka's new government and minority Tamil and Muslim leaders.

The Norwegians arrived in Sri Lanka after discussions with Anton Balasingham, the London-based chief negotiator of Tamil Tiger rebels.

The main points in those discussions were the formalisation of the current ceasefire and efforts to ease the difficulties faced by the people in Sri Lanka's war-torn north-eastern regions.

Eric Solheim
Norwegian mediation inches ahead

"There seems to be willingness and commitment from both Wickramasinghe's new government and the LTTE to find common ground on these matters," Mr Helgesen said.

He added that there were now opportunities to move step by step towards peace negotiations.

The Norwegians also met Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

Bipartisan support

She initially invited Oslo to broker peace talks between her government and Tamil rebels three years ago.

Although President Kumaratunga can remain in office till December 2005, her party lost parliamentary elections last month.

However, the Norwegians say they are encouraged by President Kumaratunga's support to the new government to press ahead with its peace initiative.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe
Prime Minister Wickramasinghe is pushing for peace

The government says there will be no quick solutions to the long-running conflict with the rebels who are fighting for a separate homeland in the island's north-east.

Sri Lanka's main political parties have been forced into a bipartisan approach to the long-festering problem following last month's elections.

These resulted in parliamentary majority going to a party that opposes President Kumaratunga.

See also:

10 Jan 02 | South Asia
Norway opens Sri Lanka peace talks
10 Jan 02 | South Asia
Norway peace team in Sri Lanka
05 Jan 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka leader backs peace moves
04 Jan 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka's Tigers start talks
03 Jan 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka wants ceasefires strengthened
02 Jan 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka eases Tamil embargo
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