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Sri Lanka says it is ready for truce

Sri Lanka has been fighting the rebels for nearly 18 years
Sri Lanka has been fighting the rebels for nearly 18 years  

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- Sri Lanka's foreign minister says the government plans to revive peace efforts with Tamil Tiger rebels.

Amid an escalation of Tamil attacks, Colombo said on Wednesday it was ready for a mutually agreed ceasefire before peace talks begin, marking a dramatic shift from its earlier position.

Sri Lanka has been beset by civil war for nearly 18 years. More than 63,000 people have died in attacks and suicide bombings by Tamil rebels, who are demanding independence for the minority Tamils in the north and east.

In an apparent attempt to avoid a crisis in the war-wracked country, President Chandrika Kumaratunga suspended the legislature in early July 2001.

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Opposition parties have since stormed parliament and vowed to impeach the president and threatened a no-confidence vote.

'Now ready'

But in the latest sign that the government is keen to put a lid on the simmering tensions, it says it is ready for a pre-talks truce, a key rebel demand.

The government has until now ruled out a ceasefire before negotiations, a tough stance that has stalled a Norwegian-brokered peace bid.

"There has been a re-assessment of policy on this matter and we are now ready for a mutually agreed ceasefire before talks," Reuters reported Foreign Minster Lakshman Kadirgamar as saying.

The announcements follow a slew of raids, which has thrown the island country into further disarray.

The Tamil tigers have taken advantage of a deepening political crisis, attacking Sri Lanka's only international airport and nearby air force base on July 24, killing dozens of people.

The airport attack, marking the 18th anniversary of a conflict, had appeared to signal the collapse of the Norwegian-brokered peace process.

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