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Violence Strains Sri Lanka Truce


In Sri Lanka, Norwegian truce monitors are warning that the cease-fire is under strain amid rising violence. The warning comes days after the Tamil Tiger rebels threatened to resume their war of independence.

Security forces stepped up patrols in the eastern port city of Trincomalee a day after street clashes between pro-government and Tamil Tiger supporters. The violence erupted after a grenade attack on a bus by suspected Tamil rebels left one person dead.

The country has been hit by a series of killings in the north and east in recent weeks. The victims have been military intelligence personnel, rebels and civilians.

Norwegian monitors supervising the cease-fire say the escalating violence is raising tensions and putting pressure on the agreement that silenced guns in the country in February 2002.

Jon Oskar Solnes, spokesman for the Sri Lanka Monitoring mission, says the deadlocked peace negotiations in the country are straining the cease-fire.

"It is certainly putting a lot of pressure on the cease-fire agreement," he said. "The cease-fire agreement is designed to be a joint procedure with peace talks. The absence of peace talks means that we are operating in some sort of political vacuum."

Peace talks were put on hold in April last year after Tamil Tigers accused the government of failing to honor pledges it had made.

On Saturday, Tamil Tiger rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakarn said in an annual radio broadcast that he had reached the limits of patience on the peace process.

The guerrilla leader said government delays on discussing rebel demands would leave the Tigers with no alternative but to advance their freedom struggle. His comments were interpreted as a threat to return to war.

Mr. Prabhakaran urged the government to resume negotiations on a proposal for self-rule in Tamil-majority territories under their control.

The government says the rebels must agree to a permanent peace before any negotiations on autonomy can be held.

Efforts by Norwegian mediators in early November to bridge the differences failed. The mediators are expected back in Sri Lanka in the coming weeks to resume their efforts.

The Tamil Tigers fought a two-decade long civil war for an independent Tamil homeland, but agreed to settle for autonomy two years ago.