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Rebels Blamed for Continuing Violence in Sri Lanka


In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tiger rebels are being blamed for a land mine attack that killed 12 sailors and wounded eight others. A rising tide of violence has cast uncertainty over coming peace talks to halt a three-decade ethnic conflict.

Defense officials say a group of sailors was heading for a vacation, when the bus they were traveling in exploded, after hitting a land mine in the troubled northeast. Several sailors died, and others were wounded.

At least two British nationals were also injured in the incident, when the bus hit a van they were riding in.

A similar ambush in Jaffna on Monday killed five soldiers and two aid workers. The government blames ethnic Tamil rebels for both attacks, but they have denied involvement.

The attacks targeting security forces have come days ahead of a second round of peace talks to be held in Geneva next week.

Political analysts say the surging violence and rising tensions between the government and the Tamil Tigers, known as the LTTE, have cast a cloud over the tentative effort that began in February to save a four-year cease-fire.

Rohan Edresinghe, of the Center for Policy Alternatives in Colombo, says the Tamil Tigers accuse the government of failing to honor a pledge made at the earlier talks to disarm a breakaway rebel faction. He says the recent violence could be an effort to extract concessions ahead of the talks.

"I think, what they are really going to insist on is the neutralization in some way of the breakaway Tamil group in the east of the country, which is really causing the LTTE a lot of difficulty, a lot of embarrassment," he said.

As the peace process appeared to falter again, the international community launched fresh efforts to nudge both sides to the negotiating table. On Monday, the ambassadors to Norway, Japan and the European Union met the Tamil rebels, and urged them to seek a peaceful settlement to the ethnic conflict that has wracked the country for three decades.

The envoys have expressed concern about the commitment of both sides to the peace process, pointing out that violence has escalated, despite pledges by the government and the rebels to honor the truce.

The situation in the country has deteriorated since December, when a new hard-line president turned down rebel demands for an autonomous homeland for the country's Tamil minority.

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