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Tamil Rebels Ready to Resume Peace Talks with Sri Lanka's  Government - 2004-05-04

In Sri Lanka, Tamil rebels say they are ready to resume peace talks with the government. The guerrilla group's announcement followed a meeting with Norwegian peace mediators, who returned to Sri Lanka following a six-month absence.

The Tamil Tigers say they are ready to start peace talks as soon as the government is ready to talk to them. But the rebels say they want their proposal for self-government in areas under their control to be the basis for any negotiations.

Some say the rebels, also known as the LTTE, will be prepared to compromise. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu is with the research organization the Center for Policy Alternatives in Colombo.

"What might be problematic is if the LTTE were to insist that only their internal self-governing authority proposal should form the basis of talks," he said. "I think the government will respond with its own proposals and together those will form the agenda of talks with regard to political issues."

Mr. Saravanamuttu says it might be some time before formal talks are resumed.

The Tamil Tigers' political leader, Thamilselvan, announced the group's intention to return to the bargaining table on a pro-rebel Internet web site, after meeting Monday with a Norwegian intermediary.

Norway mediated a ceasefire between the government and the guerrillas two years ago. But the Norwegians left Sri Lanka last November after political rivalry between the president and the prime minister made peace talks all but impossible.

The last direct talks between the government and the rebels took place more than a year ago. In October, the rebels issued a proposal allowing for broad autonomy in areas where ethnic Tamils live - a plan that has been criticized by President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

In last month's parliamentary election, President Kumaratunga's party defeated that of her main political rival, then-Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, effectively ending a bitter feud over how to proceed with the peace talks.

Ms. Kumaratunga is known for her tough stance against the rebels, who have waged a separatist campaign against the government on behalf of the country's Tamil minority for 20 years.

Norwegian mediators are expected to meet with the president before leaving Sri Lanka on Wednesday.