Norway steps up Sri Lanka peace drive

Chandi Dharmaratne

Sept 28, 2006 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s peace broker Norway stepped up moves to arrange face-to-face talks after the government accepted a pledge by the rebel Tamil Tigers to resume negotiations, diplomats said Thursday. The renewed effort came as truce monitors said that intensified fighting between government troops and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had caused the deaths of at least 200 civilians in the past two months alone.

Two Norwegian envoys were due here next week to arrange the first direct talks between the parties in seven months, diplomats close to the peace process said.

Norway’s special envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer is expected at the weekend.

He is due to be followed by the country’s International Development Minister Erik Solheim to work out dates for talks planned for Oslo as early as October, the diplomats said.

Media Minister Anura Yapa told reporters that the government remained committed to the peace process aimed at ending three decades of ethnic bloodshed that has claimed over 60,000 lives.

“There is no change in our position, we are committed to a negotiated settlement,” Yapa told reporters here.

The government said Wednesday it had received a message from Tamil Tige