Friday, 16 March, 2001, 17:16 GMT

EU promises more aid to Colombo

The European Commission president Romano Prodi has promised substantial aid to rebuild areas of Sri Lanka damaged by years of conflict, if there is progress in peace talks between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels.

Mr Prodi made the pledge in talks with the visiting Sri Lankan president, Chandrika Kumaratunga.

A BBC correspondent in Brussels quotes EU officials as saying that Mrs Kumaratunga assured the EU that she was optimistic about the possibility of a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

In another development, the Red Cross in Sri Lanka says Tamil Tiger rebels have released four Sinhalese farmers who had been held captive since December 1999. The Tamil Tigers are waging a violent campaign for a separate homeland for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority in the northern parts of the country, and are believed to be holding more than twenty civilian and military prisoners.

From the newsroom of the BBC World Service