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Sri Lanka extends emergency

Written by: Staff
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COLOMBO, Mar 21:  first imposed after the assassination of its foreign minister six months ago, but said violence had fallen sharply since talks with Tamil Tiger rebels in February.

Introduced after Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was gunned down by a suspected Tiger assassin last year, the state of emergency gives the police and army wide powers.

It was extended first for a November presidential election and then again every month as violence rose.

Some two hundred people died in less than two months in December and January as suspected Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) attacks on the military almost destroyed a 2002 ceasefire, but officials say violence has since slumped.

''Last month, the killings and attempted killings came down,'' Prime Minister Rantasiri Wickremanayake told parliament.

''This is a good trend. We want it to continue and so we need to extend the state of emergency.'' With most parliamentarians away campaigning ahead of March 30 local elections, today's extension was passed without voting. The Tamil National Alliance, political proxies of the rebels, abstained.

Mr Wickremanayake said there had only been 10 killings and nine attempted killings since the two sides met last month in Switzerland for their first high level talks since 2003 -- a vast improvement on earlier in the year. The army says not a single soldier has been wounded in the last month.

But divisions between the two sides remain vast, President Mahinda Rajapakse has repeatedly ruled out Tiger demands for a Tamil homeland and the rebels have threatened a return to a two-decade war that has killed more than 64,000 if they do not win concessions.

EXCHANGE OF FIRE

Sri Lanka's stock market, hit hard by the string of attacks at the beginning of year, has since recovered much of its losses but traders say many investors are holding back, waiting to see the outcome of the next meeting in Switzerland.

Each side continues to accuse the other of breaching the ceasefire through firing across the no-man's land between the two sides. The Nordic staffed truce monitoring mission said there were signs an exchange of fire had taken place on the east coast on Monday.

Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission spokeswoman Helen Olafsdottir said buildings in Tiger territory had been hit by naval gunfire, with each side claiming the other had fired first.

Both sides should show more restraint, she said.

''This time round, we managed to escape with little damage and no-one hurt,'' she said. ''But we are concerned there is tension in the area and we need both sides to act responsibly if they are not to affect the next round of Geneva talks.''

REUTERS

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