Wed, Aug 16, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Ceasefire stumbles in Sri Lanka

AGENCIES , COLOMBO

Family members of Sri Lankan Army Major Daniel Somapala mourn during his funeral ceremony in the northeastern town of Anuradhapura on Monday. Somapala was allegedly killed by Tamil Tiger rebels during an attack in Jaffna.

PHOTO: AP

School holidays began early in Sri Lanka yesterday as a security precaution, a day after the first attack on a diplomat since a two-decade civil war began and a suspected Tamil Tiger front threatened to attack civilians.

Fighting continued to rage in the far north, as troops and rebels fired artillery at each other across a no-man's land, the military said, as it searched for rebel infiltrators amid fears that the worst fighting since a 2002 ceasefire could continue to escalate.

"Earlier we didn't have threats like this. I don't think they'd target us, but the safety of the children has to come first," said Sylvester Ranasinghe, rector of St. Joseph's College in Colombo.

The government said that the deadly claymore mine attack on a Pakistan High Commission convoy killed 7 people and injured 17 on Monday was committed by a suicidal rebel.

But witnesses said they saw no evidence of any remains of a suicide bomber at the site.

Pakistan is one of Sri Lanka's biggest arms suppliers.

The attack on the convoy came after Air Force jets bombed Tiger territory, a raid that rebels said had killed 61 schoolgirls. Nordic truce monitors said they saw only the bodies of 19 young men and women aged from 17 to 20, and while it did not appear to be a rebel camp, they had not ruled out the possibility they were receiving civilian defense training.

Military spokesman Brig. Athula Jayawardana said, ``If the children are terrorists, what can we do?''

The Tigers are widely known to use child fighters.

UNICEF said they did not have access to the dead.

Thousands of residents were still holed up in churches and homes as troops tried to uproot out rebels who have landed on an islet to the west of the town of Jaffna. Residents stockpiled food as an indefinite curfew was briefly lifted, and most phone lines are down.

"Life is difficult, but at least we have shelter," said 40-year old plumber Patrick Selvam, who is sheltering with his wife and three children at a Catholic school in Jaffna.

However, Selvam goes home nightly to guard their belongings.

"I am worried about robberies," he said.

Aid workers estimate about 100,000 people have been recently displaced in Sri Lanka's north and east after the worst fighting since a 2002 truce first erupted in the east three weeks ago.

In the capital Colombo, residents fear more attacks after two blasts in a week and a chilling threat from the suspected Tiger front organization to start bombing civilians in the majority Sinhalese south was made.

The Colombo stock market fell 2.4 percent on Monday as investors worried the attacks could hurt tourism and dent growth prospects for the US$23 billion economy, but the bourse recovered a bit in early trade yesterday.

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