Fri, Oct 06, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Sri Lankan government touts talks as raids continue

AP , COLOMBO

The Sri Lankan government yesterday said it was willing to attend talks with the Tamil Tiger rebels at the end of the month, a government spokesman said, as a bomb blast blamed on rebels killed a soldier and the air force continued a raid in the north.

"We have agreed to the resumption of talks on Oct. 28 and 29 in Switzerland," said Nimal Siripala de Silva, top government negotiator and minister, after a meeting with Norway's peace envoy, Jon Hanssen-Bauer.

On Tuesday, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels agreed to unconditional talks with the government, but warned they would pull out of a 2002 ceasefire if the government persists with its military campaign.

However, the government also cautioned it would counter any offensives by the insurgents.

The government will engage in talks, Silva said, while "preserving its right to adopt appropriate countermeasures" should the LTTE undertake any actions of an offensive and provocative nature.

He emphasized that rebels must also immediately cease all acts of violence.

Also yesterday, a roadside bomb in northern Vavuniya district killed a soldier and wounded two others, said military spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe, who blamed insurgents for the attack.

The rebels did not immediately comment on the incident.

Elsewhere, air force fighter jets bombed rebel-held Pooneryn and Pallai areas near the northern Jaffna peninsula.

"The airstrikes were launched to destroy their [rebels'] artillery and mortar positions, which they use to fire at troops in Jaffna," Samarasinghe said.

Separately, four soldiers were wounded by rebel artillery at the northern defense line separating government troops and insurgents.

The last round of peace talks aimed at ending two decades of civil war was held in February.

The Norway-brokered 2002 ceasefire temporarily ended Sri Lanka's civil war between the government and the TTTE, who seek to carve out a separate homeland in the north for the country's ethnic Tamil minority, citing decades of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.

About 65,000 people died in the conflict before the truce.

However, renewed fighting since late July has left at least 1,000 combatants and civilians dead, even though both sides said they are still honoring the truce.

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