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SLanka truce monitors say hope violence peaking

Written by: Staff

COLOMBO, Apr 17 (Reuters) Slightly more optimistic than 48 hours earlier, the head of a Nordic mission monitoring Sri Lanka's fragile truce today said he believed violence was peaking and that peace talks in Geneva could still be held.

Swedish Major-General Ulf Henricsson took over command of the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM) on April 1, thinking he had several weeks to settle in prior to talks between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels originally scheduled for April 19-21.

But on Friday April 7, the army accused the Tigers of killing two Home Guard troopers in the island's east and by early the next week suspected rebel claymore fragmentation mines were ripping into military vehicles across the island's north and east.

Since then, some 70 people have died. The Tigers postponed the talks and then said they would not attend at all, complaining that the military had frustrated attempts to transport eastern rebel leaders to the Tiger headquarters for a meeting.

''I think it's at its peak now,'' Henricsson told Reuters in his Colombo headquarters shortly after a claymore fragmentation mine killed four soldiers in the island's north. ''I'm not so afraid of a full-scale war. If there was a military solution for one of the parties, we would have seen that by now.'' Henricsson had arranged to personally escort the rebel commanders by land and sea, but at the last minute the Tigers cancelled the transport and said they would not attend the talks.

The government has repeatedly ruled out a Tiger request for a helicopter to make the transport -- a sign, some diplomats say, that they are not that serious about talks. But both SLMM and the government say they are now getting closer to some kind of deal.

''I am optimistic,'' said Henricsson. ''We are working hard to get them to the talks. I hope it will be about a peace agreement and not about details ...'' MORE REUTERS SI RAI1447

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