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Sri Lanka, Tamil Rebels Start Second Round of Peace Talks - 2002-10-31

Sri Lankan government officials and the rebel Tamil Tigers are beginning a second round of peace talks in Thailand. The negotiators are focusing on confidence-building measures as they prepare an appeal for international aid to rebuild the war-shattered country.

Top government negotiator G.L. Pieris says the talks will focus on the international aid appeal and the kind of resources needed to rebuild the country after 19 years of civil war.

Paikaisothy Saravanamuttu heads a Sri Lanka think tank, the Centre for Policy Alternatives. He says the talks are still in the early stages, as the two sides plan committees to study various issues.

"These are, in a sense, very ad hoc temporary arrangements," he said. "We haven't got down to even talking about an interim administration." The first round of talks last month brought a breakthrough when the Tamil Tigers indicated they would drop their demand for a separate state and would consider autonomy for the northeastern part of the country.

Norway brokered a cease-fire between the warring factions last February after five years of effort. Norwegian mediators are taking part in this round of talks, which are being held at a resort outside Bangkok.

The talks also will cover the repatriation of 1.5 million people displaced by the war and efforts to clear land mines. In addition, the negotiators will talk about economic development plans for the country's northeast, where most of the fighting took place. Mr. Saravanamuttu thinks the negotiations will become more difficult as they progress. "I think we have started well in terms of a positive note, but the further one goes down in the process, the more complex and controversial issues will arise and therefore they might take a little longer in terms of resolution," Mr. Saravanamuttu said.

The Sri Lankan conflict has cost the lives of more than 60,000 people during the past two decades as the Tamil Tigers fought for a separate homeland. The minority Tamils say they are discriminated against by the Sinhalese, who make up the majority of Sri Lanka's population. The talks will last until Sunday.