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Sri Lanka sees peace talks resuming in early 2004
( 2003-10-23 21:23) (Reuters)

Frozen since April, peace talks between Sri Lanka's government and the island's Tamil Tiger rebels will restart early next year, a cabinet spokesman said on Thursday.

The Tigers will hand over a proposal on power-sharing, which will set the framework for the renewed talks, on October 31, and the two sides will hold preliminary discussions on logistics later in November, G L Peiris said.

"That will prepare the ground to discuss substantive issues in the New Year," Peiris told a news conference.

The proposal by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for an interim administration in the north and east, mostly already under rebel control, is likely to include heavy demands for control over policing and financial matters.

The government has already proposed a power-sharing plan that gives the Tigers wide powers over rebuilding and resettlement of displaced people, but no control over policing and security.

Peiris said it was important that the rebels were finally making a proposal.

"It really is the first time the LTTE is putting down on paper its vision of the structure of an interim administration," he said.

Although the LTTE walked away from the talks in April, saying the government had reneged on promises to help Tamil areas ravaged by the war, a ceasefire signed in February 2002 has kept the guns silent.

The Norwegian-brokered truce is the longest break in fighting in a war that has killed 64,000 people since 1983.

Peiris also said the preliminary discussions would "look at the question of Muslim representation".

Muslim political leaders have said they want a separate delegation in the talks for Muslims, who comprise eight percent of the population and make up one-third in the volatile east of the island.

Muslims, who are mostly Tamil-speaking but consider themselves a separate ethnic group, accuse the rebels of extortion and abductions despite the truce.

The mostly Hindu Tamils make up 18 percent of the island's 19 million people and the Buddhist Sinhalese 72 percent.

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