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Sunday, 20 February, 2000, 18:13 GMT
Sri Lankans take steps towards peace



The government and the main opposition party in Sri Lanka are set to begin discussing a plan which could help end decades of ethnic violence in the country.

The leader of the main opposition party, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has accepted an invitation to start talks with President Chandrika Kumaratunga on her proposal to grant the Tamil community greater autonomy by changing the constitution. The first meeting between the two is scheduled for next Tuesday. Mrs Kumaratunga has so far failed to secure the opposition's support for her reform plan suggested nearly five years ago.

A BBC correspondent in Colombo says the latest development amounts to a political U-turn by the opposition.

It comes after the start of mediation efforts by the Norwegian foreign minister, Knut Vollebaek. More than fifty-five thousand people have died in the fight of the rebel Tamil Tigers for an independent state in the North and East of the country.

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