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Sri Lanka, Tamil Rebels Hold 2nd Day of Peace Talks - 2003-01-07

Sri Lankan government and Tamil rebel negotiators side-stepped thorny military issues and discussed humanitarian issues in their second day of peace talks near Bangkok.

Sri Lankan government and Tamil negotiators began drawing up a plan to resettle thousands of Tamil refugees who fled their homes during nearly two decades of fighting. The two sides also discussed mine removal and refugee aid.

Chief government negotiator G.L. Peiris tells VOA that both sides are satisfied with the progress of this fourth round of talks. "It was very clear from the discussion today, that all that was necessary was a series of practical measures to engender confidence in the minds of the internally displaced persons wishing to return to their homes. That could certainly be achieved without inflicting any damage on vital security interests of the country," he said. The issues are less contentious than proposed plans for disarming the rebels and government troop withdrawals in the mostly Tamil north of the country.

There were fears that this fourth round of peace talks could be derailed by an impasse over whether disarmament or withdrawal would proceed first.

Sri Lankans hope the talks will end fighting that has left 65,000 people dead and displaced one million people. The ethnic Tamils in northern Sri Lanka had been fighting for independence, citing discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.

Since the Norwegian government mediated a truce last February, the rebels have dropped their demand for a separate state and agreed to a government autonomy plan.