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Sri Lanka Says Tamil Rebels Propose Peace Talks


The Sri Lankan government says the Tamil Tiger rebels have offered to resume peace talks, which could bring an end to nearly three weeks of fighting in the country's north and east. But international monitors mediating peace efforts say they have received no formal communications about talks, and fighting between the two sides continues.

Sri Lankan officials say the Tamil Tiger leadership had offered Friday to return to the negotiating table - a proposal the government signaled it would be keen to accept. Since then, officials say, they have not heard from the Tamil Tigers.

Friday's initial messages were relayed informally through ceasefire monitors from the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission, the SLMM. But its spokesman, Thorfinnur Omarsson, says any possible talks remain on hold, because the SLMM has received no official communication from either side.

"It's not yet there," he said. "We hope that they will do it, but we are still waiting for a formal request."

No comments about peace talks have been posted on a pro-rebel webpage that frequently carries comments from the Tamil Tiger leadership.

A day after the rebels' reported offer to meet the government, fighting erupted on the Jaffna peninsula in the north of the country - the second front to open between the two sides in recent weeks.

The government holds the peninsula, but it borders rebel-held land where the Tamil Tiger leadership is based. Communication with the area is difficult.

Clashes are also continuing in eastern Trincomalee district, where the fighting is now in its third week.

The violence erupted when the government launched an offensive to take control of a water reservoir in rebel territory, after the Tamil Tigers blocked water from flowing to villagers on government-held land.

It was the worst eruption of violence since the two sides signed a ceasefire in 2002. The truce, brokered by Norway, was meant to put an end to more than two decades of ethnically-fueled civil war that has claimed some 60,000 lives.

The Tamil Tigers demand independence for predominantly Tamil areas in the north and east of the country, because of what they say is repression by the Sinhalese majority, which controls the government in the south.

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