Mon, May 08, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Japanese envoy may meet Tamil Tiger officials


A Japanese envoy forged ahead with diplomatic efforts yesterday to stem a surge in violence that has pushed Sri Lanka back toward civil war, despite failing to secure a meeting with the top leader of Tamil Tiger rebels.

Yasushi Akashi held talks with Colombo-based Japanese diplomats and remained scheduled to meet with President Mahinda Rajapakse and two main opposition parties today.

Fresh violence, meanwhile, struck as suspected Tamil Tiger rebels fired mortars and guns at a government military camp in the east yesterday, the military said. No casualties were immediately reported.

Intermittent firing came from a rebel-held area and was directed at the camp in Batticaloa district, 220km east of Colombo, military spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe said.

The military fired back, but it was not immediately known if the rebels suffered any casualties. Another military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, said the insurgents were probably testing the military before possibly launching an advance to try to grab more territory.

Officials with Akashi had asked to meet with reclusive rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran tomorrow, rebel spokesman Daya Master said by telephone from their stronghold of Kilinochchi.

"But we told him it won't be feasible, but our political wing leader will be available," he said late on Saturday.

This visit marks Akashi's 12th to Sri Lanka since Tokyo named him as its envoy in October 2002.

"I would like to talk to as many people as possible to get a clear view of prospects of peace," Akashi said on his arrival on Saturday.

Tomorrow has been kept free for Akashi if he travels to Kilinochchi, the rebel stronghold in the north, where rebel officials meet with visiting dignitaries. It was not immediately clear if he would take the trip to the north to meet with the rebels' political chief and other junior officials.

Japan is Sri Lanka's largest aid donor and has taken an interest in building peace on the island nation, where violence has left more than 150 people dead since last month, threatening a 2002 ceasefire brokered by Norway.

Peace talks planned for last month collapsed amid a spate of land mine attacks and unsolved killings. The rift widened with a suicide attack by a suspected rebel on the army's Colombo headquarters and two days of government airstrikes against Tamil rebel bases.

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