Hopes for Sri Lanka peace as gov’t commits to talks

Chandi Dharmaratne

COLOMBO, Sept 13, 2006 (AFP) – The Sri Lankan government said Wednesday it was committed to proposed peace talks with Tamil rebels aimed at ending an upsurge in bloodshed since December that has left more than 1,500 people dead.

The nation’s top peace official, Palitha Kohona, said the government was now working on possible dates after Norway’s top peace envoy Erik Solheim announced Tuesday that the two sides would meet in October.

Initial surprise at the nature of Solheim’s announcement from one Sri Lankan cabinet minister was replaced by guarded optimism on the talks as the tiny Colombo Stock Exchange climbed sharply on Wednesday.

“Having the talks is something that the government is very strongly committed to,” Kohona, who is currently visiting London, said when contacted by telephone. “What we have to clarify is the date.”

Solheim told a quartet of donor nations known as “co-chairs” in Brussels that the warring parties were ready for talks “without any pre-conditions” in the first week of October in Oslo.

“We will have the talks in the first week of October in Oslo,” he said after addressing the co-chairs — US, Japan, European Union and Norway — who have been drumming up international support for