Sri Lanka offers to resume talks with Tamil rebels


NEW DELHI -- With its troops close to capturing the rebel city of Jaffna after a 6-week-old offensive that has seen the bloodiest fighting in 12 years of civil war, the Sri Lankan government has renewed its offer of a political settlement with the Tamil Tiger separatists.

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga said in an interview published in a Sri Lankan magazine that the government was ready for negotiations, but only if the rebels agreed to surrender at least some of their weapons to show that they intended to negotiate seriously.

"They must first lay down their arms, then agree to begin and conclude talks with an agreed, specified period," Mrs. Kumaratunga said in Silumina, a government-owned weekly magazine.

But it seems highly unlikely that the conditions will be accepted by the rebels, whose leaders have fled Jaffna and vowed to continue their struggle from jungle strongholds.

With government troops now well inside the city limits of Jaffna, the rebels' prospects have reached their lowest ebb since the last time they lost control of Jaffna, to an Indian peacekeeping force that drove them out in 1987.

Mrs. Kumaratunga's aides have said in recent weeks that the government believes the Tigers are opposed to any settlement that falls short of a separate Tamil state.

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