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Scandinavian Officials Monitor Sri Lankan Truce - 2002-06-22

In Sri Lanka, Scandinavian officials monitoring a truce between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels are trying to iron out differences holding up planned peace talks.

The head of a Scandinavian truce-monitoring mission, Major General Trond Furuhovde, is visiting the rebel-held town of Killinochi to discuss with Tamil rebels what they said are several breaches by the government of a cease-fire.

Norway brokered the cease-fire between Tamil guerrillas and the government in February, setting the stage for peace talks that were widely expected to begin in May.

But the talks have been delayed, partly due to rebel accusations that the government has not fulfilled its obligations under the agreement. For example, they say, the military has not vacated schools, temples and other public buildings in the north and the east.

Scandinavian monitors said they will focus on joint inspections of religious places and other buildings to ensure they are vacated by government soldiers. The government said it is committed to honoring the cease-fire agreement, and is trying to speed its implementation.

The monitors are also discussing a government demand that Tamil Tigers give free access to public transport along a key highway in an area under their control.

Earlier this week, an editorial in a pro-Tamil rebel newspaper said the peace effort was stagnating, and the peace talks were "not expected anytime soon." The government responded by saying the talks may be delayed, but the peace process is moving well.

Political observers say the Tamil rebels appear to be putting pressure on the government to gain as much as possible before talks begin.

But observers say there is concern that the peace process could lose momentum, if a dialogue does not begin soon.

The talks are scheduled to be held in Thailand. The decision by the government and the rebels to enter a peace process has been widely welcomed, and led to hopes that it could end one of Asia's longest civil wars.

The Tamil rebels began fighting nearly two decades ago for a separate homeland in the north and the east of the island nation, complaining of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese community. The guerrilla warfare has killed more than 60,000 people, and been a drain on the nation's economy.