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Norwegian Delegation to Help Revive Sri Lanka Peace Talks - 2004-04-28


Norwegian peace mediators are returning to Sri Lanka after nearly six months, in a bid to revive stalled peace talks between the government and Tamil rebels.

The Norwegian Embassy in Colombo says a three-member delegation will arrive Saturday in Sri Lanka. The mediators, led by Norway's Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen, are to explore ways to push forward a peace process that has been in limbo for nearly a year.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga, whose party won recent elections in the country, invited the delegation to help revive the talks with Tamil rebels. Norway helped mediate a cease-fire between the government and the rebels in 2002 and facilitated a series of peace negotiations, which resulted in the rebels agreeing to give up their demand for independence in exchange for greater autonomy for minority Tamils in the north and east of the country.

But Norwegian mediators left the country last November after a political crisis erupted between President Kumaratunga and the country's former prime minister over the peace process.

President Kumaratunga criticized the former government for being too soft on the rebels, and called early elections.

Political analysts question if the new government's Marxist allies will get in the way of a settlement.

Rohan Edresinghe, with Colombo's Center for Policy Alternatives, says the Marxists strongly oppose rebel demands for more political autonomy and self-rule.

"There is serious disagreement within the new government with respect to basic issues like devolution, federalism, the need for autonomy, let alone how they are going to respond to the LTTE's [rebels'] extreme self-governing authority proposal," he said.

Tamil rebels have said they are willing to resume talks, only if the new government accepts their proposals for self-rule as the basis for negotiations.

Although negotiations are stalled, a cease-fire in the country has been holding for more than two years.

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