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S Lanka suspected rebel front warns of new attacks

Written by: Staff

COLOMBO, Mar 27 (Reuters) A suspected Tamil Tiger front threatened today to resume attacks on Sri Lanka's military, with the government and rebels seen unwilling to compromise weeks before talks aimed at averting renewed civil war.

Tension fell in the island's minority Tamil dominated northeast after the two sides met last month in Geneva for the first high level talks in three years. That followed violence that almost destroyed a 2002 truce, raising the spectre of a return to a two-decade war that killed more than 64,000 people.

The Upsurging Peoples Brigade, one of a string of suspected Tiger fronts that claimed responsibility for attacks on the military that killed dozens of servicemen in December and January, said they would resume attacks.

''The military and paramilitary groups ... have resumed their atrocities again,'' said a statement circulated in the eastern town of Batticaloa and seen by Reuters.

It accused troops of destroying Tamil culture, harassing young Tamil women and spreading AIDS. The army denies any abuse charges.

''We are forced to resume activities recently stopped by us,'' the statement added in Tamil. ''We shall resume our activities so the military ... are aware of the severity of our attacks.'' Similar threats from suspected Tiger fronts were delivered in the run-up to the last round of talks, but no attacks followed.

''The LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) are not afraid of going to war,'' said Jehan Perera, national director of the non-partisan National Peace Council. ''They are ready for war.

But their preference is to move forward through threats.'' WAR OF WORDS The government is seen particularly unwilling to compromise ahead of local government elections on Thursday that analysts say will likely show an increase in support for Marxists opposed to any concessions to the rebels.

Each side accuses the other of failing to deliver on promises made in Geneva. The sinking of a naval gunboat on Saturday after suspected rebels smuggling arms at sea blew up their own trawler is seen souring relations further. Eight navy sailors are presumed dead, as well as six suspected rebels.

The military has revamped its Website to detail reported rebel ceasefire violations including recruitment of child soldiers. Rebel and rebel-linked Websites detail a litany of reported abuses by the army and armed Tamil groups the Tigers say act as military-backed paramilitaries.

The military deny that any armed groups operate in government territory, but the rebels say paramilitaries, particularly a group led by ex-Tiger commander Karuna Amman, must be disarmed or the Norwegian-brokered talks might be postponed.

Tensions have also been rising in the northern army-held Tamil dominated enclave of Jaffna, hemmed in by the de facto Tiger state, where troops have clashed with students trying to fly the LTTE's tiger and rifle-emblazoned flag on their campus.

''If the army continue their hardline attitude, we will bring all civilian administration in Jaffna to a standstill,'' the Tamil Students Union, which the army says is another Tiger front, said in a statement.

''On this island, there are two countries -- Sri Lanka and Tamil Eelam. Why can't the others realise this?'' REUTERS SHB RN1415

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