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 Monday, 30 December, 2002, 13:32 GMT
Sri Lanka denies peace talks 'crisis'
Tamil Tiger delegates (left) meet government negotiators
The sides have made huge progress on ending the war
The Sri Lankan Government has sought to defuse a row with Tamil Tiger rebels ahead of peace talks next week.

The sides disagree on how to return residents forced out of military areas of the island's war-torn north.

We must be happy that such crucial issues are now being discussed in a peaceful manner

Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando
The rebels have said the army must reduce high security zones to allow displaced civilians to return home.

However, a truce-monitoring team says the rebels have to match any de-escalation.

Federal model

On Monday, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando described talk of a crisis in negotiations as ''pathetic'' and said he expected the issue to be resolved through peaceful dialogue.

''We must be happy that such crucial issues are now being discussed in a peaceful manner.

"Today it is clear to the entire world that both parties are committed to peaceful political negotiations and would not resort to violence,'' Mr Fernando said.

Tigers chief negotiator Anton Balasingham
Anton Balasingham took a tough line on the row
Earlier, Tamil Tiger chief negotiator Anton Balasingham said the disagreement was threatening next week's talks on a new federal model of government and human rights issues.

''Detailed discussion on core issues cannot be undertaken when hundreds of thousands of Tamil people remain unable to return to their homes," Mr Balasingham said.

In a strongly-worded statement, the Tigers said they could not accept the truce monitors' contention that a one-sided de-escalation could undermine the entire peace bid.

Last week, the rebels had also condemned as ''diabolical'' a call by the military for the Tigers to disarm.

The Norwegian-sponsored peace talks are due to start on 6 January in Thailand.

Huge progress has been made on a permanent end to the ethnic war that has killed 64,000 people over the past two decades.

The Tigers have backed away from their demand for a separate state and agreed with the government to discuss setting up a federal system that would give them regional autonomy.


Peace efforts

Background

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26 Dec 02 | South Asia
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