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Friday, 30 August, 2002, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
Sri Lanka talks venue revealed
Sri Lankan special forces on alert in Colombo
The Sri Lankan conflict has been going on for many years

Historic talks between the Sri Lankan government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) will be held in the Thai coastal town of Sattahip, according to Norwegian facilitators.


Never before has there been such a chance for peace in Sri Lanka

Eric Solheim, mediator

The three-day talks beginning on 16 September are almost certain to be held in the naval base there - some 120 kilometres south of the Thai beach resort of Pattaya.

Erik Solheim - the Norwegian peace envoy who has spent the last four years trying to get the two sides around a negotiating table - and senior Thai foreign ministry officials have now completed most of the necessary arrangements for the talks.

Officials involved in planning the meeting say little can be made public about the forthcoming talks, except the venue, for security reasons.

The Thai naval base at Sattahip is also used for the annual joint Thai-US naval exercises. Not far from a popular holiday resort, the naval base is only a few hours drive from the capital Bangkok.

Many more rounds

Thai officials privately say that the participants could travel to and from the venue by road, air or even sea. But for security reasons, details of how the delegates were getting there were being kept secret.

The LTTE's leading negotiator, Anton Balasingham, was likely to come directly from London, Norwegian officials say.

They say that while arrangements for the sessions are still being finalised, there would be a formal opening ceremony attended by diplomats and journalists.

The heads of both delegations would make opening addresses before the negotiators retired for their secret discussions.

"This will be the first of many rounds of meetings," said Mr Solheim, "Never before has there been such a chance for peace in Sri Lanka," he said.

Commitment to peace

But Norwegian officials involved in planning these historic talks are under no illusions that what they describe as perhaps the most violent conflict in modern times can be solved quickly.

Eric Solheim
The Norwegians are playing a crucial role

"These talks will be focusing on substantive issues; we are past the confidence-building stage," said a Norwegian official.

Development, especially for the north and east of Sri Lanka which has suffered enormously during the last 20 years of conflict there, and a framework for future talks, are likely to be the two key issues discussed at this first round.

As yet there is no schedule for further talks, and much may depend on the outcome of next month's meeting.

Norwegian officials are confident that both sides are committed to the peace process and progress towards a settlement will be made.

Rising expectation

The two sides have shown their commitment: there has been virtually no violence in the country in the last six months.

The embargo on goods has been lifted. Sri Lankan officials say there was an immediate demand for bicycles and the 400,000 residents of Jaffna bought about 100,000 bicycles within weeks.

"Almost every household in the LTTE-controlled areas has a bicycle outside it," said a recent visitor to the Tamil Tiger stronghold.

Next week the Sri Lankan government is set to lift the four-year old ban on the Tamil Tigers.

And there is a growing expectation that many more prisoners of war will be released before the talks start.


Peace efforts

Background

BBC SINHALA SERVICE

BBC TAMIL SERVICE

TALKING POINT
See also:

27 Aug 02 | South Asia
26 Aug 02 | South Asia
26 Aug 02 | South Asia
15 Aug 02 | South Asia
15 Aug 02 | South Asia
21 Feb 02 | South Asia
06 Aug 02 | Country profiles
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