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Wednesday, 14 August, 2002, 15:26 GMT 16:26 UK
Sri Lanka talks date 'agreed'
Sri Lankan army soldiers
A truce has been in place since February
Sri Lanka's Government and Tamil Tiger rebels will meet next month for direct talks aimed at ending years of civil war, according to Norwegian mediators.

Agreement came after rebel chief negotiator Anton Balasingham met government representatives in the Norwegian capital, a Norwegian official told the BBC.


For the first time we now have a well structured ceasefire

Anton Balasingham,
LTTE negotiator
Erik Solheim said the long-delayed summit would now go ahead between 12-17 September in Thailand.

Formal peace talks were due to begin in May, but were put back over arguments about the implementation of a ceasefire accord adopted in February.

Mr Solheim said the ceasefire agreement had featured in Wednesday's talks, along with security zones, detainees, child soldiers and the fate of tens of thousands of people displaced by two decades of conflict.

Both sides had agreed to resolve outstanding issues, Mr Solheim said.

The Norwegian Government will issue more details when an exact date for talks is finalised.

Ceasefire holding

Ahead of the talks, an upbeat Mr Balasingham had been at pains to stress that the ceasefire was holding, and that government forces were slowly pulling out of schools, temples and other buildings in Tamil areas in the north and east.

Anton Balasingham, chief Tiger negotiator
Balasingham: Optimistic
"The ceasefire is crucial for a serious political dialogue," he told the Associated Press in Oslo.

"For the first time we now have a well structured ceasefire, and we have concentrated on stabilising the ceasefire."

His meeting with Economic Reforms Minister Milinda Moragoda was their second face-to-face encounter in less than three weeks.

The head of the government's peace secretariat, Bernard Gunatilake, was also in Norway to meet Mr Balasingham.

'Worrying' rift

Tamil tiger
The ceasefire has largely been without incident
One factor which observers believe has been delaying the talks is a dispute over President Kumaratunga's constitutional powers to dissolve parliament - a right the government wants taken away.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe said at the weekend the administration was unable to press ahead with its political agenda because of fears she might call snap elections.

Mr Balasingham said he found the dispute worrying.

"They have the duty and obligation to ensure that questions of national importance be above party conflicts," he said.

More than 65,000 people have been killed since the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) began their fight for a Tamil homeland in 1983.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Lars Bevanger
"The focus will now shift to the actual agenda for the peace talks"

Peace efforts

Background

BBC SINHALA SERVICE

BBC TAMIL SERVICE

TALKING POINT
See also:

14 Aug 02 | Crossing Continents
14 Aug 02 | South Asia
12 Aug 02 | South Asia
28 Jul 02 | South Asia
07 Aug 02 | Crossing Continents
16 Jul 02 | South Asia
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