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New Sri Lanka offer raises glimmer of hope for talks

By Staff
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COLOMBO, Apr 29 (Reuters) Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers today considered a deal that could pave the way back to talks with the government, but amid ongoing violence, fears remained the country could slip into a enewed civil war.

At a meeting of Sri Lanka's main aid donors in Oslo yesterday mediator Norway said both sides remained committed to peace talks despite a suspected Tiger suicide bomb attack on the army commander and military strikes on rebel territory that all but shattered a 2002 truce.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) pullled out of negotiations meant to take place in Geneva earlier this month citing a dispute over transport of rebel commanders to their northern headquarters for pre-talks consultations.

But the government was hopeful the Tigers might accept a new offer of a sea plane for the transport.

''So far the reaction we have through Norway has been positive,'' Palitha Kohona, head of the government's peace secretariat, told Reuters.

The Tigers, who have been fighting for a Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka's north and east, said they were giving the offer some thought.

''Our leadership is considering it but we have to discuss many practical things with the Norwegians,'' said Tiger media co-ordinator Daya Master.

The new sticking point appears to be whether the plane would land in government or rebel-controlled territory.

Even if transport arrangements can be made, analysts say the real issue is the Tigers' anger the government has not reined in a group of breakaway rebels, who truce monitors say have been operating from government territory and attacking the LTTE.

The military has held off air strikes since Wednesday, the day after the suicide bombing in Colombo, and life in the north and east was returning to normal, but continuing violence was also overshadowing efforts to get back to the negotiating table.

LTTE sniper fire in the northwest region of Mannar killed an unarmed soldier late yesterday as he was bathing in a lake, the army said. The pro-rebel Tamilnet Web site reported the army shot dead a former Tiger member in the eastern district of Batticaloa.

The violence was the latest in a cycle of suspected Tiger attacks on the military, ethnic riots and political killings that, along with the air strikes and suicide bombing, have claimed some 120 lives in less than a month.

REUTERS SHB VC1218

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