Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka looking for European venue for peace talks

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Colombo (dpa) - The Sri Lankan government in consultation with Norway is looking for a venue in Europe to hold its next round of peace talks with Tamil rebels after rebels said their chief negotiator cannot travel to the scheduled venue in Thailand due to ill health, officials said Thursday.

The search for the new venue came amidst reports that the next round of talks have been reduced to two days from the scheduled four as the rebels have not been able to adequately prepare.

The Norwegian government which is facilitating the talks said the chief rebel negotiator Anton Balasingham, who currently resides in London, had not been able to visit northern Sri Lanka for consultations with the rebel leader due to heavy floods and the virulent infectious diseases spreading in the region.

The next round of talks will be limited to February 7 and 8 due to lack of preparations for the negotiations, the Norwegian embassy said in a statement issued in Colombo.

Officials said the Sri Lankan government was looking for a venue in one of the European countries, making it convenient for the rebel representative, who suffers from a kidney ailment, to travel there.

Talks cannot be held in London as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels were declared a terrorist organisation by the U.K. in 2001.

Officials said they were considering holding the talks in Denmark, Germany or Norway itself, but no final decision has been made.

Three rounds of talks were held in Thailand and another in Oslo with further talks planned for Japan in March.

Rebels and the government are holding negotiations in a bid to find a political settlement to two decades of minority ethnic conflict which has claimed over 69,000 lives.

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Copyright (c) 2003 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 01/23/2003 08:03:19

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