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Last Updated: Friday, 19 August 2005, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Tamil Tigers agree to hold talks
Head of Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission Hagrup Haukland meets Tamil Tiger political chief SP Thamilselvan on Thursday
Norwegian mediators held meetings with Tamil Tigers this week
Sri Lanka's government and Tamil Tiger rebels have agreed to hold their first high-level talks since peace moves stalled in 2003, mediators have said.

The chief Tamil Tiger negotiator confirmed the Tigers had agreed to discuss the implementation of the 2002 ceasefire agreement.

The move follows last week's assassination of Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.

The government blames the Tigers for his death but they deny involvement.

Government spokesman Nimal Siripala de Silva welcomed the rebels' decision to attend talks and said the government was willing to engage in them without any preconditions.

Heavy pressure

The assassination of Mr Kadirgamar was seen as a major setback to Sri Lanka's peace process.

In response, the government introduced emergency rule, allowing it to deploy troops throughout the country.

TAMIL TRUCE
Feb 2002: Government and Tigers sign ceasefire paving way for talks
Dec 2002: Both sides agree to share power with autonomy for Tamils in north and east
Apr 2003: Tigers suspend talks claiming marginalisation
Mar 2004: Renegade Tiger leader splits group in east
Jul 2004: Suicide blast in Colombo - first since 2001
Dec 2004: Tamil areas badly hit as tsunami strikes
Jun 2005: Aid deal reached with Tigers amid protests
Aug 2005: Tigers agree to high-level peace talks with the government

Vidar Helgesen, deputy foreign minister of Norway, part of the foreign mission overseeing the truce, said the Tamil Tigers' agreement to talks was an important move.

"This is a significant step forward against the backdrop of the killing of the foreign minister," he said.

A time and place for the talks has yet to be confirmed.

The Tigers have been fighting for a separate nation for the minority Tamils in the north and east since 1983.

The BBC's Dumeetha Luthra, in Colombo, says that since the assassination, the rebels have been under heavy pressure to show they are maintaining peace.

A Norwegian embassy spokesman stressed the talks would focus only on the ceasefire.

"This is not the resumption of peace talks," Tom Knappskog told AFP.

The government says the rebels have made several violations of the ceasefire agreement in recent years.

On Wednesday, they called for a "review" of the ceasefire.

It wants to "make use of the hindsight wisdom of three years to ensure the stronger implementation of the ceasefire", an official source told the BBC.

Tsunami dispute

Tiger chief negotiator, Anton Balasingham, told the pro-rebel TamilNet web site that the rebels had accepted a Norwegian invitation to "participate in a review of the implementation of the ceasefire agreement in order to find practical ways of ensuring full compliance by both parties".

Sri Lankan troops stand guard on a Colombo street
Emergency powers allow the government to deploy troops freely

The Tigers have also accused the government of failing to keep to the terms of the ceasefire.

They allege the Sri Lankan military has been providing support to several Tamil paramilitary groups who have carried out attacks against the Tigers.

Five rounds of peace talks were held between the government and Tamil Tigers after the ceasefire agreement was formalised in February 2002.

The Tigers withdrew in April 2003, saying the government had failed to honour pledges on autonomy.

More recently disputes over the administration of the tsunami relief effort and the sharing of international aid have caused tension.

More than 60,000 people have died as a result of the conflict in Sri Lanka since 1983.


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