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SL front largely quiet as talks hopes rise

By Super

Colombo, Sept 14: Sri Lanka's army and Tamil Tiger rebels exchanged intermittent shell-fire overnight, but their tense northern frontline was relatively quiet as hope rose for a resumption of peace talks, the army said today.

Army spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe said one soldier had been killed and four soldiers wounded when rebels fired artillery shells and mortar bombs in the northern Jaffna peninsula. The army had returned fire.

''Some small, small incidents are taking place and we are retaliating to them,'' he said.

Sri Lanka's government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels announced this week they were ready to resume peace talks after a gap of five months.

But both sides called on the other to stop attacks, and left themselves room to pull out of talks if fighting continues.

Mediator Norway has called for talks in Oslo in early October, but the government yesterday said it had not yet been consulted about the date or venue.

The government and rebels accuse each other of trying to restart a two-decade civil war that has killed more than 65,000 people since 1983.

The LTTE pulled out of peace talks in April and a new bout of fighting erupted in late July, killing hundreds of troops, rebels and civilians in the worst violence since a 2002 ceasefire.

Both sides have launched offensives since then, although the tide appeared to be turning in the army's favour.

It has captured rebel territory near the strategic port of Trincomalee and says it has overrun Tiger frontline positions in the Jaffna peninsula in the far north.

The military is keen to press home recent military advances before the onset of monsoon rains next month and is reluctant to silence its guns immediately, analysts said.

But the government is under pressure from donors such as the United States, the European Union, Japan and Norway to come to the negotiating table.

Yesterday, two soldiers were killed and one injured when rebels ambushed a foot patrol in Jaffna, Samarasinghe said. Another soldier was killed and two injured by shelling near Trincomalee in the northeast of the island, also yesterday.


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