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7 Tamil Tiger Rebels Killed in Sri Lanka - 2004-04-26

In Sri Lanka, seven Tamil Tiger rebels have been killed by unidentified gunmen. Violence erupted as a Norwegian delegation prepares to visit the country to help revive the stalled peace process.

Military officials say a group of armed men drove a van into a rebel camp near Batticaloa town, about 220 kilometers east of the capital, Colombo.

The Tamil rebels are accusing the loyalists of a breakaway commander of mounting the attack that killed seven Tigers.

Earlier this month, the main Tamil Tiger group fought a brief battle with the renegade commander, prompting him to flee and disband the forces under his command.

The split in the rebel ranks has triggered much of the recent violence in Sri Lanka. The military has stayed away from the rebel conflict and a ceasefire between the government and the rebels continues to hold, although peace talks have been suspended for more than a year.

A new government in Colombo is now trying to revive the peace process.

A government spokesman announced that a Norwegian delegation will visit Sri Lanka to mediate in peace talks. A Norwegian foreign ministry spokesman says the date for the visit will be decided soon.

Norway helped mediate the cease-fire between the rebels and the government two-years ago, and has played an important role in talks held so far.

A presidential spokesman in Colombo, Harim Peiris, says the government is optimistic about new talks.

But several political analysts are skeptical about how peace negotiations will proceed. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu at Colombo's Center for Policy Alternatives says hard line allies of the new government are strongly opposed to granting autonomy to Tamil Tigers in Tamil-dominated areas under their control - a key demand of the rebels.

"While there is a certain amount of optimism with regard to the willingness on the part of the new government to commence talks, there is uncertainty as to what? the substance of those talks will be," said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu.

The Tamil rebels waged a two-decade long struggle for a separate homeland in the north and the east of the country, and have agreed to suspend their struggle in exchange for self-rule in Tamil-dominated areas. But last year President Chandrika Kumaratunga called their demands too sweeping, and called early elections due to deep differences with the previous government on the issue.

This month, her party won those elections, and says it is committed to negotiating peace with the rebels.