Sat, Oct 14, 2006 - Page 5 News List

New front opens in Sri Lankan conflict

LAST DITCH EFFORT? Despite the flareup, kiplomats said Norway was planning to send special envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer to work out details for peace talks later this month

AFP , COLOMBO

A Sri Lankan soldier checks bus passengers on Wednesday at a roadblock along the main highway into the capital Colombo. Sri Lanka stepped up security across the country this week amid reports of heavy fighting in the east.

PHOTO: AFP

Sri Lanka's warring parties opened a new front in the east after the government admitted losing 129 soldiers in fierce fighting that cast a shadow over peace talks planned for the end of the month.

The security forces and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on Friday blamed each other for the flareup in Ampara after heavy fighting on the northern Jaffna peninsula on Wednesday.

"LTTE terrorists launched artillery and mortar shells towards the police Special Task Force [STF] defenses," at Kandjikudiaru in Ampara, the defence ministry said.

It said there were no reports of casualties in the overnight artillery exchanges.

"The Liberation Tigers fighters were engaged in defensive clashes with the STF troopers, according to the Tiger political head of Ampara district," the pro-rebel Tamilnet.com website said.

The fighting in the east came as violence subsided in the north after Wednesday's intense battles in Jaffna where security forces suffered the biggest single loss of life since entering a truce with the Tigers in 2002.

The military lost at least 129 soldiers killed and 515 wounded but reported killing 200 rebels, a claim denied by the Tigers who put their casualties at 10 dead.

Among the dead were 74 soldiers the government said were captured and then killed, "violating all norms and regulations of human rights and Geneva conventions."

Despite the flareup in the eastern province, diplomats said Oslo was planning to send special envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer to work out details for peace talks later this month.

"They have now agreed on a time and venue, but there is the question of logistics and a lot of details to be sorted out," a diplomat said.

He said Japan, Sri lanka's main financial backer, was also sending special peace envoy Yasushi Akashi to the island on Sunday to meet with the Colombo authorities and the Tiger leadership.

The heavy bloodshed -- for which each side blamed the other -- had raised serious doubts over the talks scheduled for October 28 at a venue in Switzerland.

Neither the government nor the Tigers have said they would not attend the talks, but they have yet to announce their negotiating teams.

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