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Norwegian envoys meet Sri Lankan President

The talks between Rajapaksa and envoys Hannsen-Bauer and Erik Solheim took place in the President's office amid tight security.

india Updated: May 26, 2006 13:02 IST

Two Norwegian envoys met Sri Lanka's president on Friday in an effort to jump-start peace talks with the Tamil Tiger rebels and prevent the island nation from sliding back into full-scale civil war.

The talks between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and envoys Jon Hannsen-Bauer and Erik Solheim took place in the president's office amid tight security.

The meeting was closed to reporters and photographers, and no details were immediately available.

A 2002 ceasefire agreement between the government and the insurgents has been disintegrating amid an upsurge in violence and clashes between the two sides, including last month's assassination attempt on Sri Lanka's Army Chief.

Attempts by Norway, which brokered the truce, to revive a peace process that stalled in 2003 have so far fallen flat.

Solheim was scheduled to fly to neighbouring India later Friday to brief officials in New Delhi, a Norwegian Foreign Ministry statement said.

India sent peacekeeping troops to Sri Lanka in 1987, but withdrew them three years later after more than 1,100 Indian soldiers died in clashes with the Tigers.

Hannsen-Bauer, meanwhile, planned to meet Tamil Tiger leaders Saturday in hopes of persuading the guerrillas to return to the peace table.

The government and rebels held peace talks in Geneva in February, but a second round slated for April was cancelled after they blamed each other for rising violence.

Nearly 300 people have been killed since April, raising fears that Sri Lanka is heading back to all-out war.

S Puleedevan, chief of the Tamil Tigers' peace secretariat, has said the outcome of Saturday's talks would depend on the government's response to the mounting killings in the north and east.

"Violence should be stopped," Puleedevan said by satellite phone on Thursday from the rebel stronghold in the northern town of Kilinochchi.

"From our side, we are committed to the peace process."

The Tamil Tigers began fighting the government in 1983 for a separate homeland for minority Tamils, claiming discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.

More than 65,000 people were killed before the 2002 ceasefire.

The Norwegian envoys' efforts at restarting talks to permanently end the conflict come before a May 30 meeting in Tokyo of sponsors of the peace process: the European Union, Japan, the US and Norway.

Hannsen-Bauer has called for an early resumption of peace talks in meetings this week with government officials and political leaders, but Solheim has sought to play down expectations, saying the situation in the country was difficult.

On Thursday, two mine blasts killed four Sri Lankan police officers, one soldier and a civilian in the troubled north and east, the army said.

Meanwhile, the killing last week of Col Ramanan, the Tamil Tigers' No. 2 leader and intelligence chief for eastern Sri Lanka, has made matters worse.

A breakaway Tamil group claimed responsibility, and the military denied involvement. But the mainstream rebels blamed the government for the killing of Ramanan, who uses one name.