Sri Lanka accuses Nordic monitors of misusing truce

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COLOMBO, Oct 5 (Reuters) Sri Lanka's government today accused Nordic truce monitors of violating the terms of a 2002 ceasefire pact with Tamil Tiger rebels by helping a diplomat from Iceland meet rebel leaders without its permission.

Iceland had apologised for the meeting earlier this week between Bjarni Vestmann, Minister Counsellor of the Foreign Ministry of Iceland, and representatives of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The government said members of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, which is charged with overseeing the ceasefire agreement, had helped arrange the meeting inside a rebel-controlled area in the north of the island.

''SLMM had misused ceasefire agreement and we are going to check SLMM vehicles at checkpoints if necessary,'' Defence spokesman minister Keheliya Rambukwella said.

There was no immediate comment from the Nordic-staffed monitoring mission. An official of the Iceland embassy in Colombo said he was not in a position to comment on the issue.

Sri Lanka discourages visits by foreign officials into rebel-controlled areas, saying it gives legitimacy to the Tigers whom it describes as ''terrorists.'' ''What happens when we allow those visits, the LTTE begins to think that they are also a (separate) country... Our problem is when they (UN officials) go there, they (LTTE) take advantage,'' said Director General of the government's secretariat for coordinating the peace process, Rajiva Wijesinghe.

There was no immediate comment from the LTTE who say they are fighting for an independent homeland for minority Tamils in the north and east of the island.

Fighting between the military and the rebels has escalated in recent weeks as the government seeks to drive them further north after evicting them from strongholds in the east.

Around 70,000 people have been killed in the civil war since 1983.

REUTERS JK RN1640

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