Sun, May 07, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Envoy attempts to salvage ceasefire in tense Sri Lanka


A Japanese peace envoy was to arrive in Sri Lanka for talks yesterday as Scandinavian monitors said violence between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels was out of control.

Tokyo's special peace envoy Yasushi Akashi was to hold talks with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and would also try to meet leaders of the Tamil Tigers during his four-day visit, the Japanese embassy said.

Despite a four-year-old ceasefire, more than 200 people have died over the last month in tit-for-tat attacks by government and rebel forces, who are fighting for a Tamil minority homeland.

"The escalation of violence that's occurring now is completely out of control," Helen Olafsdottir, spokeswoman for the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission that oversees the four-year-old truce, said.

In the latest incidents on Friday, government forces attacked several Tamil Tiger boats off the island's northwest, destroying one vessel and a truck transporting reinforcements, the military said.

One naval craft sustained damage from Tamil Tiger fire but there were no casualties among sailors, said defense ministry spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe.

The navy hit back and sunk a Tiger craft, he said.

Tigers had planned to fire on the navy with truck-mounted guns but a helicopter gunship was called in to destroy the guns, the navy said. There was no independent confirmation of whether the air strike was successful.

Also on Friday, three soldiers were wounded in a mine attack near the main railway station at Vavuniya, 260km north of Colombo, Samarasinghe said.

A policeman died in a similar mine attack at Nelliyadi in Jaffna on Friday, police said.

Akashi's visit comes as the government seeks international help to revive talks on saving the ceasefire which is tenuously holding despite recent violence.

Akashi is a key figure who helped raise about US$4.5 billion in pledges to rebuild Sri Lanka during a meeting of international aid donors organized by him in June 2003.

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