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Norwegian Foreign Minister to Discuss Peace Talks in Sri Lanka 


Norway's foreign minister is in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo for talks with the president as part of efforts to restart stalled peace talks between the government and the Tamil Tiger guerrilla group. During a three-day visit, he also is expected to meet with the reclusive leader of the Tamil rebels.

The meeting between Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen and Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga is the first of several he is expected to hold this week to revive peace talks between the government and the Tamil rebels.

Norway mediated the February 2002 cease-fire between the two sides, but since then talks have faltered.

The impasse centers on the two sides' different ideas of how to govern areas of the country where the ethnic-Tamil minority is predominant. In December 2003, the Tamil Tiger rebels, who are also called the LTTE, unveiled a plan for self-rule in those areas, which the government charges amounts to virtual independence.

Jehan Perera is the director of the National Peace Council, an advocacy group.

"If you look at the LTTE proposal, it is simply about self-rule, it has no role in it at all for the government," said Jehan Perera. "So they are essentially asking for a separate and independent political structure to be set up within Sri Lanka, which the government cannot accept."

The government favors granting the Tamil minority some autonomy over areas they control through a federal structure. But Mr. Perera says different parties within Sri Lanka's ruling coalition have sent mixed signals as to whether peace talks should be resumed, leading to suspicion from the Tamil Tigers.

"The government must coherently talk with one voice and be committed to the peace process and peace talks," he said.

Mr. Petersen is expected to meet Thursday with the Velupillai Prabhakaran, the reclusive leader of the Tamil Tigers.

Before the cease-fire, the group had waged a two-decade long campaign for a separate homeland for the Tamil minority. The conflict has claimed 60,000 lives.

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