Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, the media minister, said on Monday: "The government wants to make it clear that we are in favour of starting the process as soon as possible.

"We are taking proper steps and when they are complete, we can go ahead."

The comments came after Mahinda Rajapakse, Sri Lanka's newly elected president, called an emergency meeting of his aides, a day after the country's most senior Tamil Tiger leader threatened to intensify the struggle for an independent homeland next year if the ethnic minority's grievances were not addressed.

Velupillai Prabhakaran did not set an exact deadline in his speech Sunday, but said that Rajapakse must lay out a plan that satisfies the political aspirations of the country's 3.2 million Tamils, who seek a homeland in the northeast.

"If the new government rejects our urgent appeal, we will, next year, in solidarity with our people, intensify our struggle for self-determination, our struggle for national liberation to establish self-government in our homeland," he said.