Sri Lanka's government denied it agreed to unconditional peace talks with ethnic Tamil rebels, casting doubt on a possible meeting next month in Norway announced by the European Union.
Diplomatic efforts to return the two sides to a faltering peace process came amid some of the heaviest fighting since a 2002 ceasefire that has threatened to return the country to all-out war.
"We got today the expression of willingness, we got signals from the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE (Tamil Tigers), to come to talks unconditionally," Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's external relations commissioner on Tuesday said, on behalf of Sri Lanka's international backers - the EU, Japan, the United States and Norway.
She said the meeting could take place in October in Oslo.
Sri Lanka's government, speaking hours later, however, denied it had agreed to talks without preconditions.
"We will put forward our conditions," government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said.
Rambukwella also criticized peace broker Norway for announcing a date and a venue without having first consulted the government.
"We will take it up very seriously, we are a sovereign state, they (Norway) are only facilitators. We have not delegated any of our powers to them," Rambukwella said.
Government troops and rebels have traded artillery fire across their front lines in Jaffna peninsula since Thursday and sporadic exchanges of fire continued yesterday, military spokesman Brig Prasad Samarasinghe said.