Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger Rebels Agree to Unconditional Talks

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels on Tuesday agreed to unconditional talks with the government, but warned they will pull out of a 2002 cease-fire if the government persists with its military campaign, a spokesman for the insurgents said.

"We have said that we are ready for talks. We have not placed any conditions and neither has the government," rebel spokesman, Daya Master, told The Associated Press.

He was speaking after Norway's peace envoy, Jon Hanssen-Bauer, met with the head of the rebels' political wing, Suppiah Thamilselvan, to press for an end to months of recent bloodshed and a return to talks, suspended since February.

"But Mr. Thamilselvan said one thing, that we will totally pull out of the cease-fire if the government continues to attack us," Master said.

CountryWatch: Sri Lanka

President Mahinda Rajapakse would make a final decision on whether to hold talks with the rebels, the government's chief peace negotiator Nimal Siripala de Silva told reporters at a press conference later Tuesday.

"The government can't just say 'yes' or 'no', the government will have to carefully scrutinize the message sent by the (Tigers) and give a considered view and a response," he said.

The Norway-brokered cease-fire temporarily ended Sri Lanka's 19-year civil war between the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam who want to carve out a separate homeland for the country's ethnic Tamils. About 65,000 people were killed in the conflict before the truce.

Renewed fighting since late July, however, has left at least 1,000 combatants and civilians dead.

No date for the talks was announced, although the government's national security spokesman, Keheliya Rambukwella, earlier said the government has suggested Oct. 30 or Nov. 10 as possible dates.

The government had previously said it wants a personal commitment from the rebels' reclusive leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, to end all violence before any talks.

Tuesday's meeting was part of Hanssen-Bauer's stepped up diplomatic efforts to restart peace talks.

Following the peace talks in Geneva in February, a second round slated for April was canceled after each side blamed the other for rising violence.

On Monday, Hanssen-Bauer held separate meetings with de Silva, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and Palitha Kohona, chief of the government's peace secretariat, officials said.

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Meanwhile, a rebel Web site said air force fighter jets bombed rebel-held areas 32 miles away from where the talks were taking place.

"This morning, they (rebels) were firing artillery toward our forces in the northern peninsula and the air force attacked three identified rebel artillery positions to neutralize their attack," military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Tamil Tigers attacked a police camp in Murunkan in northern Vavuniya district, prompting police to retaliate, Samarasinghe said , adding that the insurgents were armed with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades.

Police did not suffer any casualties, but they later recovered the body of one rebel, he said.