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Sri Lanka suggests date for talks with separatist Tamil rebels as violence soars

Sri Lanka suggests date for talks with separatist Tamil rebels as violence soars

The Sri Lankan government on Thursday said it was willing to attend talks with Tamil Tiger rebels at the end of the month, a government spokesman said, as a bomb blast blamed on rebels killed a soldier and the air force continued to raid areas in the north and east.
"We have agreed to the resumption of talks on Oct. 28 and 29 in Switzerland," Nimal Siripala de Silva, a top government negotiator and minister, said after a meeting with Norway's peace envoy, Jon Hanssen-Bauer.
On Tuesday, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels agreed to unconditional talks with the government, but warned they would pull out of a 2002 cease-fire if the government persists with its military campaign.
However, the government also cautioned it would counter any offensives by the insurgents.
The government will engage in talks, Silva said, "preserving its right to adopt appropriate countermeasures" should the rebels undertake any offensive or provocative actions.
He emphasized that the rebels must immediately cease all acts of violence.
Hanssen-Bauer has been asked to secure a response from the rebels, De Silva said.
The last round of peace talks aimed at ending two decades of civil war was held in February.
Also Thursday, a roadside bomb in northern Vavuniya district killed a soldier and wounded two others, said military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe, blaming insurgents for the attack.
Elsewhere, air force fighter jets bombed rebel-held Pallai and Pooneryn areas near the northern Jaffna peninsula.
"The airstrikes were launched to destroy their (rebels) artillery and mortar positions, which they use to fire at troops in Jaffna," Samarasinghe said.
Separately, rebel artillery wounded four soldiers at the northern defense line separating government troops and insurgents.
In other military action on Thursday, the Sri Lankan air force bombed a rebel naval base in the country's east, severely damaging it, Samarasinghe said.
The rebels did not immediately comment on the incidents.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's two largest political parties, considered arch rivals, agreed Thursday to formulate common policies to solve the country's most pressing problems, mainly the civil war.
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party _ the chief member of the country's ruling coalition _ and the main opposition United National Party agreed to tackle six key issues: the war, economic development, electoral reforms, good governance, educational reforms and social development, opposition lawmaker Gamini Peiris said.
The two parties are to sign a preliminary agreement before Oct. 15 detailing their common policies on each of the six issues.
The parties together control 125 seats in Sri Lanka's 225-member Parliament and their consensus is vital for mustering a two-thirds majority to push through any constitutional reforms for ethnic minorities.
The Norway-brokered 2002 cease-fire temporarily ended Sri Lanka's civil war between the government and the Tamil Tigers, who want to carve out a separate homeland in the north for the country's ethnic Tamil minority, citing decades of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.
About 65,000 people died in the conflict before the truce.
However, renewed fighting since late July has left at least 1,000 combatants and civilians dead, even though both sides say they are still honoring the truce.
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Associated Press writer Bharatha Mallawarachi contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-10-25 11:58 GMT+08:00