Fri, May 26, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Mine blast kills four Sri Lankan police, army says

FRAGILE PEACEThe deaths of the officers in the east of the country came ahead of talks between the Norwegian envoy who brokered the 2002 ceasefire and Tamil Tiger leaders

AP , COLOMBO

A mine blast struck a police vehicle yesterday in eastern Sri Lanka, killing four officers, as Norwegian envoys visited the country to try to salvage its disintegrating ceasefire, an army spokesman said.

The blast hit the police patrol in the town of Kattankudy in Batticaloa district, 225km east of Colombo, army spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe said.

Police were investigating the blast, which killed four policemen, Samarasinghe said. It was triggered by an anti-personnel mine, which the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels often use to target Sri Lankan security forces.

On Wednesday, three government forces were killed and a policeman was injured in two mine blasts in northern Sri Lanka.

Peace talks

Also Wednesday, Norwegian envoy Jon Hannsen-Bauer arrived in Colombo and held talks with the government to encourage an early resumption of peace talks with the Tamil Tigers, government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said.

Bauer was to be joined today by Erik Solheim, who negotiated Sri Lanka’s 2002 government-rebel ceasefire and is Norway’s international development minister.

Solheim is scheduled to meet Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa today, after which he is expected to travel to New Delhi to discuss the Sri Lanka situation with the Indian authorities, a Norwegian Foreign Ministry statement said.

Bauer is scheduled to meet Tamil Tiger leaders tomorrow, in hopes of persuading the guerrillas to return to the peace process, the ministry said.

S. Puleedevan, chief of the Tamil Tigers’ peace secretariat, said the outcome of tomorrow’s talks would depend on the government’s response to the upsurge in killings in the north and east.

Puleedevan noted the ambush killing last week of Colonel Ramanan, the Tamil Tigers’ No. 2 leader and intelligence chief for eastern Sri Lanka. A breakaway Tamil group claimed responsibility, and the military denied involvement.

Low expectations

But the mainstream rebels blamed the government for Ramanan’s killing.

“Violence should be stopped ... From our side, we are committed to the peace process,” said Puleedevan when reached by satellite phone in the rebel stronghold in Kilinochchi.

In Oslo on Wednesday, Solheim sought to play down expectations for his Sri Lanka mission, saying the situation in the country was difficult.

Yet he admitted his trip was important, coming before a meeting next Tuesday in Tokyo of sponsors of the peace process: the EU, Japan, the US and Norway.

The government and rebels held peace talks in Geneva in February, but a second round slated for last month was canceled after they blamed rising violence on each other.

Surging violence has killed nearly 300 people since last month, raising fears that Sri Lanka is heading back to full-scale civil war.

The Tigers have been fighting the government since 1983, demanding a separate homeland for the minority Tamils, claiming discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.

More than 65,000 people were killed before the 2002 ceasefire accord halted 19 years of open warfare.

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