Announcing that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had accepted President Chandrika Kumaratunga's offer for talks, the cabinet spokesman said the meeting could be held as early as Wednesday.

"The prime minister has indicated he would be willing to meet tomorrow," the spokesman said on Tuesday.

The island-country in the Indian Ocean has been in the midst of a political crisis since President Kumaratunga sacked three ministers and suspended parliament last week while the prime minister was on a visit to the United States.

Peace envoys

But Wickremesinghe's government insisted that the political crisis triggered by the president's actions had jeopardised the peace talks with the rebel Tamil Tigers.

"Events of the last few days have inflicted very considerable damage on the peace process. It has been damaged and it has been put in jeopardy," the spokesman GL Peiris said.

"The prime minister has indicated he would be willing to meet tomorrow"

GLPeiris
Cabinet spokesman

However, external help to salvage the peace process has arrived in the form of Norwegian envoys.

Officials said Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister, Vidar Helgesen, and special adviser Erik Solheim were to meet a wide array of Sri Lankan leaders during their two-day visit, with a view to narrow down differences. 

The peace talks have become uncertain after the Sri Lankan president and the prime minister differed over it.

Kumaratunga had been critical of both the prime minister and the Norwegians, accusing them of granting the rebels too many concessions.

Wickremesinghe's government responded by offering to hand over running of the peace process to the president and by calling for snap elections.

The Norwegian envoys are also expected to travel to the country's north to meet leaders of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

"Their talks will be on talks," a diplomatic source said.