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S Lanka Tigers say 5 killed by mine ahead of talks

Written by: Staff
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COLOMBO, June 7 (Reuters) Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels accused the government of killing five civilians in a landmine blast in the island's east today, the day before talks in Norway, but the military denied the charge.

Truce monitors say the worst violence since a 2002 ceasefire has killed more than 400 people since early April, and few believe talks in Norway scheduled for tomorrow and Friday will stop the low-intensity conflict.

''It was an anti-vehicle mine,'' said Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) media co-ordinator Daya Master. ''The people were going on a tractor. Five civilians were killed, 14 were injured.'' The Tigers say members of the armed forces are operating behind rebel lines together with members of anti-Tiger Tamil armed groups and breakaway ex-rebels, but the military has repeatedly denied the charges.

''The security forces do not go into those areas,'' said army spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe. ''We totally reject these accusations.'' The last direct talks between the two sides were held in February, but diplomats say neither side has honoured promises made then. Suspected rebel attacks on the military have since soared, as have killings of Tamil civilians blamed on the army.

Both sides deny carrying out all but a handful of attacks.

Three security forces personnel were killed yesterday in the island's minority Tamil dominated north and east, while a claymore fragmentation mine wounded two when it exploded near the capital Colombo -- the first such attack near the city since a 2002 ceasefire.

The rebels agreed to this week's talks hosted in Oslo by Norway, which brokered the original ceasefire. But the talks will only cover the safety and operation of the island's 60-person ceasefire monitoring mission, not the wider issues.

The rebels have warned the unarmed Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) to avoid travelling on naval warships that may be attacked by the rebels. The monitors have angered both sides by accusing them of ceasefire breaches and killings.

Both sides say they want peace, but accuse each other of negotiating in bad faith. Some fear the Tigers might return to the battlefield to win their goal of a separate Tamil homeland, restarting a war that has already killed more than 64,000.

''Our fighting formations are waiting for the message from our national leader to initiate a definite victory,'' pro-rebel website Tamilnet quoted northeastern LTTE political leader S Elilan as telling civilians being given self-defence training.

REUTERS SHB KN1450

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