Lankan army kills 7, talks deadlocked
COLOMBO, May 4: Sri Lanka's army said it killed seven suspected Tamil Tigers after an attack on a checkpoint, while the rebels raised new objections to a government plan aimed at ending a deadlock over planned peace talks.
International truce monitors say around 200 people have died since early April in the bloodiest month since a 2002 truce halted two decades of civil war. Talks due to be held last month in Switzerland have been postponed indefinitely by the rebels.
The army said two Home Guard troopers were shot dead in the orning in the northern Vavuniya district, while grenade and shooting attacks continued across the north. Seven people were killed after an attack on a checkpoint near the town of Jaffna.
''They came on three-wheelers,'' said army spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe, saying he believed the attackers were Tigers.
''They fired and threw grenades. Two soldiers were wounded. The soldiers blocked the road and fired at the three-wheelers. One exploded. Seven were killed.'' In what appeared to be an account of the same incident, pro-rebel website Tamilnet said six innocent civilians were shot dead by the army after an attack on a checkpoint.
A suicide bomb attack on army headquarters in the capital and retaliatory government air strikes on Tiger positions last week raised fears of a return to a full-scale conflict that has killed more than 64,000.
But diplomats say the lack of flexibility by the two sides particularly the Tigers is making talks extremely difficult. The two sides have been unable to agree on the issue of transport of eastern rebel leaders to a pre-talks meeting.
The Tigers wanted military helicopters, the government refused.
The government offered a civilian ferry, but the Tigers pulled out of that plan at the last minute. The latest plan is to use a seaplane.
''We've agreed on a landing site for the seaplane,'' Palitha Kohona, head of the government peace secretariat, told Reuters.
''The government is bending over backwards. I think if you look at it sanely, they will have to come back to talks sooner or later.'' But the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said there was a new problem -- the land transport of eastern rebel commanders to the seaplane itself.
They said the government was blocking a request the rebels travel in vehicles belonging to Nordic truce monitors.
''The land transport needs to be done before going by seaplane,'' said head of the rebel peace secretariat S. Puleedevan. ''The Sinhalese defence ministry has rejected our request. We cannot understand why they are putting all these obstacles.'' A spokeswoman for the truce monitoring mission said they knew nothing about any new dispute over land transport. The government was not immediately available for comment on the new objection.
Rebel anger over what they say is army support for a renegade group of former rebels, the Karuna group who have been attacking the Tigers in the east, is expected to dominate any eventual talks. The government denies the allegation.