The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Groundwork for Lanka talks laid

Sattahip (Thailand), Sept. 17 (Reuters): The Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels held six hours of talks today aimed at laying the groundwork to end 19 years of fighting that has sucked the economic life out of the island.

The negotiations held behind closed doors were “frank and constructive and held in a relaxed atmosphere,” Norwegian mediators said in a statement. “The parties have shown understanding and mutual respect for each other’s concerns,” the statement said after the two sides ended their second session of the day at a naval base at Sattahip, 260 km southeast of Bangkok. The talks, the first face-to-face negotiations in seven years, end tomorrow.

“Among the issues discussed were implementation of the ceasefire agreement, humanitarian challenges and further cooperation to improve economic development and normalisation,” the statement said. “Also, the structure and framework for the future meetings and the way forward have been discussed,” it said.

A positive start to the talks was expected because contentious issues, such as Tiger demands for a separate state, will be left until later rounds. Norway brokered a ceasefire signed by the government and LTTE in February that has dramatically changed conditions in the island. The upbeat mood was captured back in Sri Lanka by investors, who have pushed up the Colombo stock market nearly three per cent in two days to its highest level in five years.

There was no immediate reaction from politicians in Colombo who have accused the government of wanting to give away too much to the separatist Tamil rebels in return for an end to the war that has killed 64,000 people and displaced a million.

But auto-rickshaw driver Nimal Perera, swerving through traffic in downtown Colombo, said he was already reaping the benefits of moves towards peace.

“It used to be very crazy with the suicide bombings and security checks,” said the 42-year-old as he negotiated his three-wheeler through a line of cars.

“Now, work is much easier because the barricades have been lifted in Colombo. I don’t like Prabhakaran. He's crazy, but the government has to talk to him.”

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