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Norwegian Envoy Vows to Continue Peace Talks in Sri Lanka


A top Norwegian envoy facilitating Sri Lanka's peace talks says mediators will continue to talk to representatives of both the government and the Tamil Tigers, in an effort to save next week's planned peace talks. Erik Solheim says the responsibility for ensuring those talks take place lies with the two warring parties.

Norwegian envoy Erik Solheim says mediators will do everything they can to encourage the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tiger guerrilla group to honor their commitment to hold peace talks in next week in Geneva, Switzerland.

But Solheim says if the government and the rebels, also called the LTTE, are not genuinely interested peace, there is little the Norwegian team can do.

"We will, over the next few days, be in very close touch with both the government and the LTTE to see if there is any way talks can go ahead," he said. "But it's again the responsibility of the parties to provide new ideas of how the talks can be prepared. "

On Sunday, Tamil Tiger leaders say they would not attend the talks scheduled to take place April 24 and 25 in Geneva. They say they were unable to hold key internal meetings with their commanders in the east of the country, because the Sri Lankan Navy was monitoring their movements too closely.

The Geneva meeting had originally been scheduled for earlier in the month, but was postponed when the rebels insisted that internal meetings take place.

Government officials say they are still ready for the talks to go on, but some analysts have cast doubt on their commitment. They say the government could provide a helicopter for the rebels to hold their internal meeting, but officials seem unwilling to do so.

The two sides last met face to face in February, in Geneva. Both sides reiterated their commitment to the 2002 cease-fire brokered by Norway, which had been showing signs of unraveling.

But little has changed. Roughly 70 people have died this month in another escalation of violence. Government officials say at least four soldiers died Monday when Tamil Tigers placed Claymore mines on a road where they knew troops would travel a technique they have used in the past.

For peace talks to take place, Solheim says, that has to stop - as do attacks carried out by armed groups thought to be affiliated with the government.

"Both sides should refrain from any sort of violence," Solheim added."We've seen a number of Claymore attacks particularly in the last week. They also agreed that no armed group would be allowed to operate from government-controlled areas. And this clause seems not to be implemented either."

The Tamil Tigers and the government have been locked in more than two decades of civil war. The rebels first demanded independence for areas of the country where the country's ethnic Tamil minority are predominant. Later, they downgraded their demand to greater autonomy. More than 60,000 people have died in the conflict.

Months of stalemate between the two sides was complicated by disputes over the fair distribution of billions of dollars in international assistance, provided following the

December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

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