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Sri Lankan Government, Tamil Tiger Hold Talks in Berlin - 2003-02-08

Representatives of the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels met in Berlin Friday for another round of peace talks to end their two-decade war. Both sides are playing down an incident in Sri Lanka, in which three Tamil rebels blew themselves up, as their boat was being checked for weapons.

The talks, which are set to run for two days, are to focus on speeding up humanitarian work in war-ravaged areas and on charges of continued recruitment of child soldiers by the Tamil Tigers. The two sides will also discuss how to use millions of dollars being raised in foreign aid to rebuild areas of the country devastated by war. Observers say the talks will pave the way for a major donor conference for Sri Lanka in Japan this June.

This is the fifth round of discussions between the government and rebels. Norway is supervising the talks, which are being held at the Norwegian Embassy in Berlin.

In Sri Lanka, meanwhile, three Tamil rebels blew themselves up Friday, after Norwegian truce monitors boarded their boat to investigate for weapons. The monitors and a translator escaped by jumping overboard. The monitors said the weapons and ammunition found on the boat were a clear violation of the cease-fire signed by both sides one year ago. This is also described as the most serious breach of the truce since the peace talks got underway in September.

However, negotiators for both the Tamils and the Sri Lankan government played down the incident, blaming an apparent communication failure between the three rebels on the boat and their commanders.

Minority Tamil rebels have been fighting for a separate homeland since 1983, saying they suffer discrimination from Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority. The conflict has killed more than 60,000 people, and left more than one million others displaced. Last year, the rebels dropped their demand for a separate state, and agreed to accept autonomy for Tamil-dominated areas in the east and north of the country.