Tamil Tigers 'serious about peace'
The talks took place in Tamil-held areas
A Norwegian peace envoy who has held a surprise meeting in Sri
Lanka with the head of the Tamil Tigers has said he believes the group
is serious about making peace.
These talks are one step in a positive direction, but
everyone understands there is still a long, long way to go to solve
Peace envoy Erik Solheim
Erik Solheim held two hours of talks with Tamil Tiger chief,
Velupillai Prabhakaran, in what is being seen as a highly-significant
Mr Prabhakaran has rarely if ever met outside intermediaries,
and the meeting has raised hopes that efforts to try to end the
long-running conflict are back on track.
"These talks are one step in a positive direction, but everyone
understands there is still a long, long way to go to solve the
conflict," Mr Solheim told the BBC after the talks.
President Kumaratunga: Appeared to have dropped peace
He said all major topics related to the war had been discussed,
and he said the Tigers appeared serious.
"We were exploring the possibilities of creating an atmosphere
which could make peace talks possible," he said.
Mr Solheim, who is expected to meet Sri Lankan President
Chandrika Kumaratunga on Friday, said these were the first talks of
their kind for at least five years.
Mr Solheim was accompanied by the Norwegian ambassador, John
Westborg, and another Norwegian official as part of a three-day visit
to Tamil Tiger areas.
They met Mr Prabhakaran and the leader of the rebels' political
In a press statement released in London after the meeting, the
Tamil Tigers said that Mr Prabhakaran had called for a de-escalation
of the Sri Lankan conflict before negotiations with the government
The BBC's Alastair Lawson in Colombo says the meeting means that
Norwegian efforts to mediate between the Sri Lankan government and the
Tamil Tigers are now back on the cards, and that the Norwegians appear
to have the confidence of both sides.
No holds barred
The development is in contrast to statements made by the
government during the recent election campaign, when it appeared to
abandon the possibility of negotiating with the rebels.
The government's official line is that it does not welcome
foreign mediation in the war.
It says it would prefer outside countries to provide the
facilities to enable the two sides to reconcile their differences.
During the election campaign, President Kumaratunga had said
there would be no holds barred in the war against the rebels.
She said the best hope for peace was either in the defeat of the
Tamil Tigers, or in her plans to alter the constitution so that Tamil
majority areas of the country could have more autonomy.