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Friday, 29 March, 2002, 06:03 GMT
Direct talks in Sri Lankan conflict
Visiting Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vida Helgesen, left, and Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai
The venue was decided at a meeting in Bangkok
Thailand will be the venue for historic face-to-face talks between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels, officials said on Friday.

"Both parties to the conflict have agreed to holding the talks in Thailand," said a statement read out by Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai and the visiting Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vida Helgesen.

The peace talks, which follow a ceasefire signed by the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan Government in February, are expected to begin in the first week of May.

An unidentified Tamil rebel places weapons on top of a table during a surrender ceremony
The two sides signed a ceasefire agreement in February
The meeting will be the first between the two sides since the Oslo peace initiative began three years ago.

The Norwegian envoy, Vidar Helgesen - whose country has been largely responsible for arranging the talks - said the purpose was to find a resolution to the 18-year Sri Lankan conflict.

"The negotiations will aim at reaching a political settlement," he told reporters.

Mr Helgesen is due to visit Sri Lanka in mid-April to prepare the ground for the talks.

Guerilla war

The Tamil rebels have been fighting for a separate homeland in the north and east of Sri Lanka for nearly two decades.

The Tamils, a minority group in Sri Lanka, claim they are discriminated against by the majority Sinhalese.

So far, the 18-year war has claimed some 64,500 lives.

The LTTE was banned in 1998. The group is also outlawed in other countries, such as India, the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
Ranil Wickremesinghe has taken steps towards a ceasefire
The last round of negotiations between the Tigers and the government broke down in 1995 after a 100-day ceasefire, when President Chandrika Kumaratunga's government claimed the rebels were not interested in discussing substantive political issues.

The LTTE replied by accusing the government of reneging on its promises to solve the problems of the Tamil people.

As time passed, Mrs Kumaratunga's government hardened its stand.

But her party lost national elections in December, although her own tenure runs until 2005.

Soon after taking over, new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe took steps toward a negotiated settlement.

He ended sanctions on rebel-held areas and also said he would consider lifting the ban against the LTTE.

See also:

22 Mar 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka prepares ground for talks
22 Feb 02 | South Asia
Ceasefire signed in Sri Lanka
25 Mar 02 | South Asia
Tamil rebel returns home
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