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Last Updated: Monday, 6 February 2006, 17:46 GMT
Date set for key Sri Lanka talks
Security personnel check cars in Colombo
Fears of a return to war have risen in recent months
Sri Lanka's government and Tamil Tiger rebels will meet in Geneva on 22-23 February, peace broker Norway says.

The news came after talks in London between envoy Erik Solheim and chief rebel negotiator Anton Balasingham.

"The parties to the conflict... have asked Norway to facilitate talks," the Norwegian embassy said in a statement.

The two days of talks are aimed at boosting a threadbare four-year truce. Mounting violence in recent months has raised fears of a return to civil war.

'Very significant'

Both sides agreed to hold talks in Switzerland during a visit to Sri Lanka by Mr Solheim last month.

The parties will discuss how they can improve the implementation of the cease-fire agreement
Norwegian statement

The meeting will be the first face-to-face talks at such a high level for nearly three years.

"It is very positive that the parties have agreed to meet at high level to discuss how to improve the serious security situation," Mr Solheim said in Monday's statement.

"Norway, in its role as facilitator, will do its best to help the parties find a practical solution to relieve the pressure the cease-fire has come under."

He said the talks were "a small but very significant step towards putting the peace process back on a positive track".

Leading the delegations will be Mr Solheim for Norway, Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva for Sri Lanka's government and Mr Balasingham for the rebels.

Soaring violence

The ceasefire agreement in February 2002 preceded several rounds of peace talks, which stalled in April 2003.

Since new President Mahinda Rajapakse was elected after a hard-line campaign last November, killings and abductions in the north and east have soared.

At least 120 people - including about 80 soldiers and sailors and many civilians - have died in the upsurge of violence, which has abated since the deal to hold talks was reached.

The attacks on the military have been blamed on the rebels, who deny involvement.

Tamil Tiger supporters say more than 40 Tamils have been killed by the security forces in a series of attacks since the start of December. Others blame some of those deaths on the rebels or other armed groups.

More than 60,000 people died during two decades of conflict in Sri Lanka.

The Tamil Tigers want autonomy for minority Tamils in the north and east. President Rajapakse has said the solution to the conflict lies in a unitary state.

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