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Deal with rebels over transport likely: S Lanka

By Staff
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Colombo, May 4: Sri Lanka's government today said it was moving closer to an agreement over the transport of Tamil Tiger commanders, a rebel pre-condition for peace talks, as two people were killed in fresh violence in the north.

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 two sides have been rowing over the issue of transport of eastern rebel leaders to a pre-talks meeting. The government refused to provide military helicopters for them, while the Tigers pulled out of a sea transport offered by the government, at the last minute.

Now, the 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 sources, adding that the government was prepared to go to talks next week if need be.

''The government is bending over backwards. But I think if you look at it sanely, they will have to come back to talks sooner or later.'' But diplomats say that even if the transport issue is resolved, they will only believe the Norwegian-brokered talks in Geneva will happen when the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) physically sit down at the table.

Police said suspected rebels killed two Home Guard troopers and wounded two today with an improvised bomb near the northern town of Vavuniya. The Tigers deny attacks on the military, but few believe them.

The rebels, who want an ethnic Tamil homeland in the north and east, are also angry over what they say is army support for a renegade group of former rebels. The government denies the allegation.

In the northeastern port town of Trincomalee, soldiers told a Reuters photographer they had destroyed a claymore fragmentation mine.

A suicide bomb attack on army headquarters in the capital and retaliatory government air strikes on Tiger positions last week had raised fears of a return to full-scale conflict.

REUTERS

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