Sri Lanka army says foils attack, violence simmers
Batticaloa (Sri Lanka), Apr 15 (Reuters) Sri Lanka's army said today it had foiled a suspected Tamil Tiger rebel ambush hours after the two sides agreed new dates for talks on saving the fragile four-year truce.
A week-long surge of violence abated somewhat after the rebels recommitted themselves on Thursday to talks in Geneva in late April.
But killings are continuing and, with more than 40 people dead this week in the bloodiest few days since the 2002 ceasefire, some diplomats say they will only believe the meeting will happen when they see the two sides sit down.
''Last night, troops arrested an LTTE cadre with two claymore mines,'' an army spokesman said. ''His purpose was to lay the claymore mines and attack army troops.'' Claymore fragmentation mines, blocks of plastic explosive that blast out a hail of steel ball bearings, have been a frequent weapon employed in suspected Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ambushes.
''I believe these attacks are intended to destabilise and demoralise,'' said Palitha Kohona, head of the government peace secretariat, late yesterday.
The army said a member of the anti-Tiger Tamil political party the EPDP, a government ally of President Mahinda Rajapakse, had also been killed by suspected rebels in the eastern army-held town of Batticaloa.
The Tigers, whose two-decade fight for a Tamil homeland has killed more than 64,000 people on both sides and devastated north and east Sri Lanka, deny the attacks. Few analysts or diplomats believe them.
Rebel Genocide claims
The rebels in turn have accused the government of being behind ethnic riots in which several Tamils died following suspected rebel attacks in the northeastern town of Trincomalee, one of the few places in the country where large populations of Tamils, Muslims and the island's Sinhalese majority co-exist.
''If the genocide attacks by State armed forces with the connivance of Sinhalese hoodlums continue in the Trincomalee district, we would be forced to take steps to safeguard the lives and properties of innocent Tamil people. and that would lead to undesirable serious consequence on the current peace process,'' the pro-rebel website Tamilnet quoted Tiger Trincomalee district political head S Elilan as saying.
The Tigers forced postponement of the Geneva talks after they demanded eastern rebel commanders be given a helicopter flight or safe-conduct in Sea Tiger vessels to the de facto rebel capital, Kilinochchi.
The Tigers have now accepted an offer for a convoy escorted by unarmed Nordic truce monitors to move their commanders on vehicles through both government and rebel territory to a civilian ferry, which will then take them north. The convoy is due to move on Saturday.
It was the second time this year that the island had been pushed to the brink of war. In January, fighters on both sides believed war was imminent until violence fell after the Tigers agreed to the first round of Geneva talks.
In the east, the Tigers are facing off not just against the military but also against breakaway ex-rebels led by former LTTE commander Karuna Amman. The rebels say the group has government backing. The army denies the charge.
Rebel demands for Karuna to be disarmed are likely to play a large part in the talks now set for April 24 and 25. Colombo denies he is operating in government areas, but the name of his fledgling political party, the TVMP, is scrawled in red on almost every lamp-post in Batticaloa town.