Mon, Oct 23, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Sri Lankan rivals trade artillery fire

POSITIONING A senior government official says the Tigers are trying to bully the government ahead of the opening of talks on Oct. 28 in Geneva

AGENCIES , COLOMBO

Sri Lankan government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels exchanged sporadic artillery fire yesterday in the north, the military said.

The exchange took place a day after the navy said it destroyed two insurgent boats that approached a northern naval base, killing six.

The rebels fired artillery and mortar rounds on and off yesterday, and government troops retaliated, an officer at the Media Center for National Security said on condition of anonymity, in line with policy.

No casualties were reported, the officer said.

On Saturday, the navy said it destroyed two boats belonging to the rebels that were spotted heading toward a naval base on Kayos Island near Jaffna Peninsula.

Despite a spike in attacks that has left hundreds of combatants dead, both the government and rebels say they remain committed to peace talks scheduled to start Oct. 28 in Geneva, and the government said on Saturday it will provide safe passage for rebels traveling to the talks.

Rebel leaders must travel through Colombo, the site of the country's only international airport, to fly to Switzerland.

"We have accommodated them over the years. We will provide necessary security, although they have unleashed terror,"government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said.

Meanwhile, the head of nation's peace agency said the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were trying to intimidate the government ahead of the talks by launching high-profile attacks.

"They seem to be following a strategy designed to intimidate the government," Peace Secretariat Secretary-General Palitha Kohona said.

"My own view is that they are not going to get any leverage as the result of the violence and terrorism," he said.

Rebel leaders were not immediately available for comment but residents in the northern Tamil-dominated Jaffna region said yesterday that the LTTE was warning Colombo of a wider conflict.

"Now prevails a war environment ... it is inevitable that the consequences of the aggressive war moves launched by the government would spread throughout Sri Lanka," one Jaffna resident quoted LTTE political wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan as saying on a rebel local TV station.

Kohona said the ongoing violence must not derail the talks.

"I think we must separate the talks from the violence. The talks are designed to create an environment to achieve a sustainable, lasting peace," he said late on Saturday in his office in Colombo. "To approach negotiations through piles of dead bodies and broken limbs appears to me a contradiction in terms."

The government plans to focus in the talks on elections in the north and east, the question of child soldiers and the need for peace to bring development to the region.

Kohona said a pact planned this week between the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the opposition United National Party (UNP) on several issues, including an approach on finding a political settlement to the conflict, would give more flexibility to government negotiators ahead of the talks.

"Now, for the first time, the south is united," he said. "This certainly does counter an argument that the Tigers had always used for not seriously engaging in discussions which was that the south was incapable of delivering due to the fractured nature of its politics."

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