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S Lanka violence goes on as Japan peace bid fails

Written by: Staff
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COLOMBO, May 10 (Reuters) Japan's peace envoy today warned Sri Lanka's strained peace process was at its lowest ebb since he took the job in 2002, and called on Tamil Tiger rebels to resume talks amid fresh violence in the restive north.

Yasushi Akashi, who sees a risk of a return to a two-decade civil war that killed over 64,000 people before a 2002 truce, said the onus was on the government and rebels -- and not the international community -- to avoid all-out war.

''Everyone should try their best to de-escalate an extremely tense and dangerous climate,'' Akashi told a news conference hours after two sailors were wounded when a claymore fragmentation mine exploded as they cleared roadside scrub in the far north.

''(The situation) is at its worst since I began my role as Japanese government envoy (in 2002),'' he added, wrapping up his peace bid before heading to neighbouring India to brief government leaders there.

He said Sri Lanka's main foreign donors who pledged 4.5 billion dollars in aid to foster peace would meet in Tokyo later this month to assess where they stand.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who want a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils in the north and east, have withdrawn from peace talks indefinitely, saying yesterday that Sri Lanka was moving towards the ''fringes'' of war.

With the Tigers constantly imposing new conditions for talks, diplomats and analysts fear attacks, bombings and land and sea clashes that killed more than 200 people in the past month will continue.

But some argue the island is already at war in all but name. More people were killed in April than during many periods of the war itself, when attacks were often sporadic and followed by weeks of little activity.

''It all depends on your definition of war,'' said one diplomat, who asked not to be named.

The army found a large cache of weapons, including seven claymore mines, in army-held Jaffna yesterday.

In the rebel-dominated north, many civilians fear they will have to flee homes they are still rebuilding after they were destroyed in bombing raids in the 1990s. Others trying to rebuild houses in the east that were flattened by the 2004 tsunami fear the same.

Both the mainly Sinhalese government and the Tigers accuse each other of ethnically-motivated attacks.

''What is of deep concern to the government ... is the attempt by the LTTE to provoke an ethnic backlash,'' Health Minister and government peace team leader Nimal Siripala de Silva told parliament.

''We urge the LTTE to immediately cease all attacks on the security forces as well as the civilians and to respond positively to the flexibility demonstrated by the government.'' REUTERS SY KN1707

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