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Norwegian peace envoy arrives in Sri Lanka

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March 5, 2001 


COLOMBO-(AP) - Norwegian peace envoy Erik Solheim arrived Sunday in yet another attempt to resume peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels caught in an impasse over a cease-fire.

"We are having discussions with senior politicians on the possibility of bringing the two parties to the negotiating table," said Jon Westborg, the Norwegian ambassador to Sri Lanka.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who have been fighting since 1983 for a separate homeland for minority Tamils in the country's north and east, want a truce before resuming peace talks with the government after a five-year hiatus.

The government says it will consider a cease-fire only if negotiations with the guerrillas show some progress toward ending the civil strife, which has claimed more than 63,000 lives. President Chandrika Kumaratunga reiterated her offer Sunday at a rally of her Sri Lanka Freedom Party. She said the government was willing to start talks with the LTTE although it was capable of defeating them militarily.

The LTTE announced a unilateral cease-fire on Dec. 24 and has extended it until March 24. There has been no positive response from the government, which claims that the guerrillas have violated the truce more than 90 times.

It was not immediately known whether Solheim would meet Kumaratunga or travel to the rebel-controlled area to meet the LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran.

"The visit is part of our peace efforts," Westborg told The Associated Press.

Solheim has been trying for more than two years to narrow the differences between the two sides and bring them back to the negotiating table.

Meanwhile, Kumaratunga's party, the main constituent of the ruling People's Alliance coalition, on Sunday adopted a resolution calling for all governments to outlaw Tamil Tiger rebels.

The call, which came three days after Britain recommended the group for banning under new anti-terrorism legislation, was endorsed by more than 100,000 members who gathered in the capital, Colombo, for the party's 13th national convention.

"No civilized, democratic society could bear the weight of terrorism for a long time," the resolution said. "The divisive politics of terror has become a serious threat to democracy, not only in our country but to the entire South Asian region, as well as to the whole world."

On Saturday, the rebels killed four civilians in the Welioya area, nearly 220 kilometers (135 miles) northeast of Colombo.

"It is a further violation of the rebels' self-declared cease-fire," said Brig. Sanath Karunaratne, the army spokesman. Those killed were farmers returning home after guarding their agricultural land overnight from an attack by wild elephants, he said.

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