Ranil invites Oslo to resume peace process

COLOMBO, DEC. 27. The Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, today formally invited Oslo to continue its efforts for talks between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

A press release from the Prime Minister's Office said Mr. Wickremesinghe spoke to his Norwegian counterpart, Mr. Kjell Magne Bondevik, over telephone today.

``Mr. Wickremesinghe requested Mr. Bondevik to continue the action so far taken by the Norway to settle the northeastern conflict in the same manner,'' the release said. Mr. Wickremesinghe's invitation to Norway comes on the heels of a month-long truce declaration by the Government in response to a ceasefire by the LTTE for the same period and an announcement that it would lift economic restrictions on the movement of goods to LTTE-held areas.

The Prime Minister announced at a press conference on Wednesday that India welcomed Norway's role in Sri Lanka and said peace talks with the LTTE might begin as early as March next year.

``We are addressing the humanitarian issues first to lay a firm foundation for the talks. It is to build a firm foundation that we are removing the economic embargoes by January 15,'' Mr. Wickremesinghe said.

The Prime Minister said previous attempts at negotiations with the LTTE had failed because the foundation was not strong, and his Government's initial steps would address this.

Norway was the chosen facilitator by the previous People's Alliance Government and the LTTE, but the two-year-old initiative suffered a setback in April this year after a series of events that heightened mistrust between both sides.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said that restrictions on LTTE-held areas would be removed according to the plan drawn up by the previous Government.

The Prime Minister's visit to New Delhi and the backing he received there for his peace efforts have sent out a clear political signal in Sri Lanka that his Government may be subject to the powers of the Executive President, Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga, but it has a powerful ally in India.

``The Indian Government gave me encouragement and support for the steps we have taken to find a political settlement to the present crisis,'' Mr. Wickremesinghe said. Describing the Indian visit as productive, he said there was a ``lot of goodwill'' for Sri Lanka in New Delhi. During the visit, Mr. Wickremesinghe said he also discussed Indian investment in Sri Lanka's ailing energy sector.