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New Violence Threatens Sri Lanka Peace Effort - 2004-07-25

In Sri Lanka, eight people believed to be supporters of a breakaway rebel faction have been killed. Meanwhile, Norwegian mediators launched a fresh bid to salvage a peace process threatened by growing violence.

Police say the men were shot dead in a suburb of the capital, Colombo, in a posh building believed to be a safe house of a breakaway Tamil Tiger rebel faction.

The main Tamil Tiger group said those killed were supporters of a renegade commander, V. Muralitharan, popularly known as Karuna. They said a Sri Lankan military intelligence official was also among the dead. Police denied that.

Karuna led a split in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam in March, and went into hiding weeks later, after disbanding the combatants under him.

Since then there have been clashes between the two groups, mostly in the east of the country, where Karuna commands support.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the latest attack, but suspicion has fallen on the main rebel group, which was the first to report the killings.

The latest violence erupted as Norwegian mediators, led by Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen, arrived in Colombo in a fresh bid to restart a peace process that was launched more than two-years ago to end the country's civil war.

Initial optimism that the peace process will end the ethnic conflict has been replaced with fears that the escalating violence may threaten the country's fragile truce. There have been no talks between the government and the rebels in more than a year, although a cease-fire is holding. Efforts to get the two sides to the negotiating table have been complicated by the split in the rebel group. The Tigers say the Sri Lankan army is aiding the breakaway faction in a bid to weaken their movement. The government denies the charge.

Before arriving in Sri Lanka, Norwegian diplomats said there is little confidence between the two sides, but efforts will be made to move the peace process forward. Mr. Helgesen will meet rebel leaders and Sri Lanka's president and prime minister in the coming days.

The Tamil Tigers want wide autonomy in the rebel-controlled north and east of the island. The conflict erupted two decades ago, with complaints that the majority Sinhalese community was discriminating against the minority Tamils.