A top Sri Lankan official has offered to stop military action against Tamil Tiger separatist rebels if they return to peace talks.

Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse said in an interview with the Sunday Island newspaper that troops would not press ahead with an offensive if the rebels return to the negotiating table.

Rajapakse, the brother of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, said in a television appearance last Monday that it would be impossible to reach a political solution without defeating the rebels militarily

Many Sri Lankan politicians and foreign diplomats have expressed hope the 24-year conflict can be resolved through negotiations.

Despite a 2002 cease-fire, fighting has recently intensified between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels.

The rebels have been fighting since 1983 for a separate homeland for Sri Lanka's minority Tamils. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.