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Sri Lankan Peace Talks Might Resume Soon

International ceasefire monitors in Sri Lanka say they are hopeful the government and the rebel Tamil Tiger guerrilla group are about to return to the negotiating table. The government, after first denying it had agreed to talks, now says they are possible.

Sri Lankan officials on Wednesday at first said they were never consulted about holding unconditional peace talks with the Tamil rebels, and said it was misleading to suggest that negotiations would take place soon.

Norwegian peace mediator Erik Solheim told a meeting of international donors in Brussels that Colombo had agreed to talks with the rebels.

He suggested that discussions could be held in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, in early October. The government then agreed that it was considering new talks.

Norway brokered a ceasefire between the government and the rebels, officially known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, in 2002. The Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission was created as part of that truce, and European monitors were deployed across the country.

The truce has all but collapsed this year as the two sides engage in clashes that have killed more than a thousand people in the past two months.

Thorfinnur Omarsson, spokesman for the monitoring mission, says the monitors now hope formalities and technical issues surrounding a resumption of talks do not prevent new discussions from taking place.

"The government, and even the president himself, yesterday said once again that they are ready for peace talks with the LTTE - whenever. The big issue is to get back to the negotiating table - that's the main thing," he said.

Rebel leaders have not commented on the statements. But they, too, have said they are willing in principle to resume negotiations, in order to prevent the country from falling back into civil war.

The rebels first demanded independence, and then greater autonomy, for areas in the east and north of the country where the ethnic Tamil minority is predominant. More than 60,000 people have died in two decades of fighting.