Sri Lanka says ready to talk peace as fighting rages

COLOMBO, Aug 13, 2006 (AFP) – Sri Lankan troops and Tamil Tiger rebels waged artillery and ground battles Sunday as the weekend death toll rose to 186 by official count, but both sides said they were willing to talk peace. Policy Planning Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) made an overture Friday through Nordic truce monitors to revive stalled talks and Colombo was ready for discussions.

“We have told them, name your team and find a date and we will be there,” Rambukwella said, adding that they awaited a response.

Fierce fighting over the weekend killed 36 soldiers and 150 rebels by official count and a leading peace negotiator was shot dead Saturday — a killing blamed by the government on the rebels.

The minister, who is also spokesman for defence-related matters, said the government was ready for a negotiated settlement to the decades-long separatist conflict with the Tigers.

Even as he spoke troops and Tigers fought artillery duels and sporadic face-to-face clashes continued in the northern Jaffna peninsula, a military official said.

“The security forces are conducting clearing operations and sporadic skirmishes are still taking place,” said the offic

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