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International Envoys Work to Revive Sri Lanka Peace Talks


Envoys from the United States, Japan and Norway are currently in Sri Lanka, hoping to convince the government and Tamil rebels to return to the negotiating table. Their visit comes as violence between the two escalates dramatically, with two suicide bombings by the rebels this week.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher joins peace envoys from Japan and Norway in efforts this week to stop Sri Lanka's conflict from degenerating into all out war.

Boucher met with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and other senior government officials. The goal, the State Department says, is to encourage Sri Lanka's government to carry through with its commitment to peace talks with the Tamil Tiger rebels - the next round of which is planned for the end of the month in Geneva.

Earlier in the week, Japanese envoy Yasushi Akashi and Norwegian peace facilitator Jon Hanssen Bauer arrived separately for discussions with government officials and the rebel leadership.

The diplomatic offensive comes amid an ever-increasing escalation of hostilities. There have been two dramatic suicide bombings by suspected rebels this week. The military has retaliated with air strikes on rebel positions.

An analyst with the Center for Policy Alternatives in Colombo, Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, says the challenge for the diplomats is to convince both sides that negotiation is the only way to end the fighting.

"That there has to be a serious commitment to exploring a political settlement and arriving at one," said Saravanamuttu. "At the end of the day, this is not a war that can be won on the battlefield, it has to be a negotiated political and constitutional settlement."

On Wednesday, suicide bombers posing as fishermen blew up two boats in an attack on a naval base in the southern city of Galle. One sailor and as many as 15 rebels were killed. That followed Monday's suicide bombing of a naval convoy outside the northeastern city of Habarana, which killed about 100 sailors and bystanders.

The rebels have not admitted responsibility for either incident, but they have a long history of suicide bombings.

An estimated 2,000 people have died in violence in Sri Lanka this year. The violence has all but put an end to a 2002 ceasefire agreement mediated by Norway as a preface to full-scale peace talks.

In the past two years, talks have focused on saving the ceasefire, rather than addressing the fundamental differences between the two sides.

For nearly two decades, the rebels have been fighting for a separate homeland for the Tamil minority, because of what they say is discrimination by the Sinhalese majority. The civil war has claimed more than 60,000 lives.