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Sri Lanka Peace Envoy Makes Little Progress

The latest diplomatic effort to break an impasse in Sri Lanka's fragile peace process has made no headway.

Japanese envoy Yasushi Akashi traveled to Sri Lanka's rebel-controlled north on Tuesday, hoping to get a commitment from the Tamil Tigers to resume peace talks.

But he failed to convince the rebels to return to the negotiating table to try salvaging a peace process that many say is close to breaking point.

A Tamil Tiger spokesman says the rebel group told Mr. Akashi they will not attend talks until violence targeted at Tamil civilians ends. The rebels said the attacks will force the ethnic Tamil people to make a decision that will bring doom to the country. They asked the international community to create more a conducive environment for talks.

The talks were to have been held in Geneva last month - as a rash of violence gripped the north and east - but the Tigers declined to attend

Before meeting the rebels, Akashi met the Sri Lankan president on Monday, who reaffirmed the government's commitment to peace talks.

But after failing to get the Tigers to agree to talks, Akashi said many are worried that war might start again. He said it is the responsibility of both sides to prevent an escalation of the conflict.

Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, the director of the Center for Policy Alternatives in Colombo, says many in Sri Lanka believe that the situation is sliding toward war.

"It seems like the two sides do not expect any great advancement from talking at this point, and therefore one will have to rely on their better counsel and self restraint to prevent a slide towards open hostilities," he said.

Sri Lanka is experiencing the worst tensions since the truce halted nearly a quarter century of war as the rebels sought to claim a separate homeland for the country's Tamil minority.

Relations between the rebels and the government have reached a new low. The four-year ceasefire is holding only in name, but violence erupts almost daily. Last month a surge of deadly suspected rebel attacks, a suicide bombing, ethnic riots and violence aimed at Tamil civilians claimed nearly 200 lives. Both sides blame each other for the deteriorating situation.

On Tuesday, parliament extended a state of emergency in the country for one month.

Japan is Sri Lanka's largest aid donor and has been closely involved with the peace process that had raised hopes of ending the island's ethnic conflict peacefully.