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Lanka and Tigers lack commitment to truce-monitors

Written by: Staff
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Colombo, Mar 26: Sri Lanka's military and the Tamil Tigers both lack commitment to a 2002 ceasefire that halted two decades of civil war and further provocation could rekindle a rash of deadly attacks, Nordic truce monitors said today.

The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) said it had not ruled out rebel involvement in an attack yesterday, when suspected rebels blew up their own trawler and sank an approaching Sri Lankan patrol boat leaving eight sailors presumed dead at sea.

It was the worst incident since the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) agreed to hold peace talks in Geneva in February. A second round in April is seen as vital to uphold the truce and avoid a return to war.

''There has been a dangerous escalation of violence taking place over the last couple of weeks. This trend is extremely worrying,'' the SLMM said in a statement.

''Both sides have shown lack of commitment and their actions have been provocative and not in line with the spirit of the ceasefire agreement.'' Search teams were still scouring the sea off the northwestern district of Puttalam for the eight missing after the worst incident at sea since suspected suicide rebels blew up a similar navy patrol boat in January.

Military officials said hopes of finding anyone alive after Saturday's blast, in which the army believes six Tigers smuggling weapons blew up their trawler to avoid capture, had faded.

The Tigers denied any involvement in the incident, which follows another in mid-February off the northeast coast, in which the Navy said four suspected rebels and one sailor were killed after a trawler was blown up.

SHADOW WAR

A string of suspected rebel attacks in December and January that killed dozens of armed forces personnel drove the island to the brink of war before both sides agreed to the first high level talks since the peace process ground to a halt in 2003. The Tigers, whose armed struggle to establish a separate homeland for minority Tamils in north and east Sri Lanka has been officially on hold since the truce, have routinely denied any involvement in attacks on the military.

''Based on SLMM's previous experience during the period of the ceasefire agreement we feel that we cannot at this stage rule out their involvement,'' the monitors said.

The SLMM also called on the government to make good on a pledge to disarm paramilitaries -- namely a group of renegade rebels the Tigers accuse the military of helping mount attacks on their forces -- to ensure that the truce holds and peace talks stay on track.

The Tigers have warned there will be no progress at talks in April unless they see disarmament and may even postpone the meeting in Geneva. The government promised to ensure no armed groups operate in its territory, and say they have found no evidence of the breakaway rebel group.

''We would like to urge the government of Sri Lanka to take this matter seriously and not close their eyes to armed elements that are to our knowledge still operating in government controlled areas,'' the statement added.

Violence has tailed off sharply since late January, although some diplomats fear a rising war of words between the foes could result in renewed attacks that could in turn reignite a civil war that has killed more than 64,000 people.

''If the parties do not take responsibility we fear that the situation could become gradually worse resulting in an escalation beyond what we had in December and January,'' the SLMM said.

Reuters

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