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S Lanka monitors fear more violence, blame both sides

Written by: Staff
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BATTICALOA, Sri Lanka, Apr 15 (Reuters) Sri Lanka faces the spectre of worsening violence and neither government nor Tamil Tiger rebels have shown commitment to peace talks, the head of the international truce monitoring team today said.

The Nordic-staffed unarmed Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), tasked with monitoring a strained 2002 truce, was to have escorted a convoy of Tamil Tiger leaders to their de facto capital but the rebels cancelled the trip and announced they would not go to planned talks in Switzerland.

"I'm worried about the situation for Sri Lankan people of all ethnic groups," the mission chief, Swedish Major General Ulf Henricsson, told Reuters at his eastern headquarters in Batticaloa.

"Those in positions of responsibility on either side are not acting in the interests of their people." A string of attacks widely blamed on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and rising ethnic violence have killed more than 40 people in the past week, leading many to fear resumption of the two-decade civil war. The SLMM has not ruled on who carried out the attacks, but few diplomats believe the Tiger denials.

"We can't tell who is responsible for every single claymore mine," he said. "But if you look at the pattern of the last week you could at least get a clue which side is mainly responsible." Talks originally scheduled for Geneva next week were seen as key to reducing tension. The attacks had led many to expect they would be cancelled but on Thursday the Tigers said they only wanted them postponed and on Friday the government agreed new dates.

BLAMING BOTH SIDES But the Tigers said their attendance was conditional on the truce monitors taking eastern rebel commanders by road and then sea to their northern headquarters, a move that was to have taken place on today morning.

And as the white SLMM four-wheel-drive vehicles prepared to leave their eastern compound to begin the journey, the Tigers announced they were cancelling the operation because they would not accept the Sri Lankan Navy shadowing the transport.

Henricsson said the Tigers had already agreed that naval fast attack craft could monitor the civilian ferry carrying their leaders from a couple of miles away and that, if they did not know that, they had not read the small print.

"The LTTE has cancelled this," he said. "It is not the SLMM." But the problem could have been avoided if the government had agreed an initial rebel demand for a military helicopter to transport the senior Tigers, he said, something the government has done in the past.

"I blame both sides," Henricsson said. "The government for being stubborn on the way the LTTE should be transported. The LTTE are also to blame because they set up a lot of requests and conditions." Ultimately, he said, it appeared neither side really wanted to meet in Geneva. The government faced being blamed for not disarming Tamil armed groups who have been attacking the Tigers while the rebels would have been blamed for the rising violence.

"If the parties are not committed to talks, Geneva will not be very fruitful," he said.

But he said that, while violence might worsen, he believed and hoped that a return to the two-decade full-scale war that has already killed more than 64,000 could be averted.

"Retaliation will not make the situation better," he said. "It will just kill more people. There can be no military victory in this war. If there was, we would have already seen it." REUTERS OM RAI1339

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