Tamil rebels to hold ceasefire talks

Tamil Tiger rebels have agreed to resume talks with the Sri Lankan government to review the country’s fragile cease-fire, the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo and a rebel spokesman said today.

Tamil Tiger rebels have agreed to resume talks with the Sri Lankan government to review the country’s fragile cease-fire, the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo and a rebel spokesman said today.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamileelam have “agreed to discuss the CFA (cease-fire agreement) with the Sri Lankan government”, said Tom Knappskog of the Norwegian Embassy. “The willingness to have the talks is there, but no date or venue have been decided.”

Tamil rebel spokesman Daya Master, in response to Knappskog’s comments, confirmed that an agreement in principle had been reached to hold talks, but that no date or venue had been set.

The earlier peace talks broke down about one year after Norwegian peace negotiators brokered a cease-fire in 2002 to halt the country’s brutal civil war. Six rounds of inconclusive talks were held.

The rebels earlier denied reports they had agreed to meet with the Sri Lankan government to review the cease-fire.

Master, the rebel spokesman, said the rebel leadership was writing a letter to the Norwegians to detail their position.

The rebels are led by the reclusive Velupillai Prabhakaran, the long-time head of the Liberation Tigers of Tamileelam.

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga wants to hold direct talks with rebels in an effort to end a spate of political assassinations that have plagued the country, her office said.

She made the request hours after Parliament yesterday approved an extension of an emergency rule decree imposed after last week’s assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar by a suspected rebel sniper.

Earlier news reports, quoting Norway’s Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen, said the guerrillas had agreed to hold direct talks with the government.

Before Kadirgamar’s killing, the rebels had refused to consider talks until the government disarmed paramilitaries who the Tigers said were operating in government-held areas and largely responsible for attacking rebel fighters. The government denies sponsoring paramilitaries.

The emergency laws give broad power to the military – which President Kumaratunga controls – to make arrests, interrogate suspects and search houses at will. The laws also ban public gatherings, gives the president lawmaking powers and allows media censorship.

Soon after the legislature approved the motion, the president’s office said she wanted a review of the 2002 Norwegian-brokered cease-fire.

The Tamil Tigers began fighting in 1983 for a separate nation for the minority Tamils in the north and east of the island nation off the southern tip of India.

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