Top Tamil Tiger leaders began a key internal meeting in Paris on Thursday to decide on a response to the Sri Lankan government's offer to restart the faltering peace process.
The meeting of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at a hotel in the French capital is likely to last between a week and 10 days, a source close to the talks said.
Sri Lanka's chief negotiator G L Peiris said Norway's special envoy Erik Solheim would be in Paris and available for consultations on the Colombo government's offer of limited political autonomy to the rebels. But, Solheim will not take part in the talks.
The Tigers are consulting their legal and constitutional advisers in order to respond to the government's offer, seen as a possible step towards a final settlement.
Peiris said he expected the Tigers to take up to three weeks to respond to the government's latest offer, adding that he was confident that peace talks could begin by late September.
However, there has been no firm indication from the Tigers on a possible date for a resumption of talks despite intense diplomatic pressure on the rebels to end their boycott.
The Tigers pulled out of peace talks on April 21 accusing the government of going back on promises made during six rounds of talks since September. The Tigers have made the establishment of an interim administration a pre-condition for rejoining the Norwegian-brokered talks.
The Tigers’ meeting comes at a pivotal time as violence surges in the island's multi-ethnic eastern region where four Muslim men were killed in the past week.
Reacting to it, President Chandrika Kumaratunga on Wednesday moved to divide the island's war-torn northeast.
Ethnic clashes complicate
moves towards peace
Her spokesman Harim Peiris said she was "actively considering" ending a concession to Tiger rebels linking the multi-ethnic eastern province and the Tamil-dominated north because of a spate of attacks against the Muslim minority.
The northern province was united with the multi-ethnic east in 1987 in exchange for ethnic peace with the Tamils. The deal fell through, but the provinces remain linked.
However, the presidential spokesman declined to say if and when Kumaratunga would carry out the proposed move. The president is an ardent critic of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's handling of the peace process.