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Thailand to Host Sri Lanka Peace Talks

Thailand says it will host peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels, the first face-to-face talks in seven years. The announcement came Friday in Bangkok after a meeting between Thai officials and Norwegian mediators.

Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai made the announcement Friday after meeting with Norway's Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen.

The officials said the negotiations are aimed at reaching a political settlement to the conflict in Sri Lanka. They say the exact date and location have yet to be decided, but the Sri Lankan government says it expects the talks to begin in early May.

The Norwegian deputy foreign minister tells VOA the two parties are taking confidence-building steps and have shown determination to respect a cease-fire brokered by Norway in February. "They have stated clearly that they are willing to enter into direct negotiations. So far I think we're on the right track and we do believe that the parties want to achieve a political settlement," Mr. Helgesen said.

The Norwegian diplomat says the next step is to consult with both parties to draw up an agenda for the talks.

Under February's cease-fire, the Sri Lankan government agreed to give legal recognition to the Tamil rebels. The two sides also agreed to set a timetable to move the war zone towards normality by opening highways to civilian traffic and allowing political activity.

The talks will be the first time the Sri Lankan government and Tamil rebels will meet face-to-face in seven years. The two sides signed a truce in 1995 but it broke down 100 days later.

The government has indicated a willingness to consider all rebel conditions except separation.

The minority Tamils say Sri Lanka's majority Sinhalese discriminate against them. The rebels 18 years ago launched their fight for a homeland in the northern part of the island nation. More than 64,000 people have died in the conflict since then.