Blair meets Sri Lanka leader amid Tamil turmoil

LONDON, Aug 31, 2006 (AFP) – British Prime Minister Tony Blair met Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse on Thursday for private talks on the political situation in Sri Lanka, a spokeswoman for Blair said. Rajapakse has said he was ready for unconditional talks with the Tigers and described the current military action against the rebels as a “defensive operation” to prevent attacks against security forces and civilians. The two leaders, meeting at Blair’s country residence Chequers, northwest of London, also discussed “general global issues”, the spokeswoman told AFP, without giving further details.

The Sri Lankan embassy in London declined to comment on the visit, but officials in Colombo have said Blair and Rajapakse were expected to discuss Sri Lanka’s collapsing ceasefire with Tamil Tiger rebels.

There was no formal statement from the Sri Lankan government about Rajapakse’s surprise departure for London on Wednesday, just as government forces were battling Tamil Tiger rebels in the island nation’s northeast.

Some 1,500 people have died since December last year when Sri Lanka’s three-decade-old ethnic conflict escalated again as a truce struck in February 2002 started unravelling.

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