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Suspected Rebels Mount Another Deadly Attack in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, an attack by suspected Tamil Tiger rebels has killed seven soldiers - the second such incident in three days. The violence is severely straining a truce that had returned peace to the country.

Officials say the soldiers were on a routine patrol when a landmine exploded in Jaffna in the north, blowing up their vehicle.

The attack came just two days after the Tamil Tigers were blamed for a similar blast that also killed seven soldiers and as a new military commander, Sarath Fonseka took charge of government forces.

General Fonseka said the rebels were probably to blame. But he expressed confidence that the violence would not lead to fresh hostilities, and said the military wanted to establish contact with the rebels to ensure that the peace process did not collapse.

At the same time, the new military chief said his forces are ready for any situation and have not dropped their guard.

The head of Colombo's Center for Policy Alternatives, Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, says the recent attacks have raised worries that the island may slip back into war.

"The real question here is whether it portends a deliberate escalation of hostilities leading to a resort to war," said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu. "That of course is not clear at the present moment. What is clear is that unless there are intensified efforts to ensure communication between the two sides, this could spiral out of control."

The recent violence is the most serious since the two sides signed a cease-fire nearly four years ago. In recent days, it has claimed more than 20 lives, including soldiers and civilians.

Political analysts say the rebelsare trying to provoke the government, following the rebels' recent statement that failure to negotiate an early political settlement will lead to an intensified struggle.

The rebel warning came after the country's new president ruled out an autonomous homeland for the minority Tamil community. Observers say with both sides taking a tough stand, chances of the deadlocked peace process resuming appear unlikely. The rebel struggle for a Tamil homeland began in 1983.