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Truce Monitors in Sri Lanka Warn Civil War Imminent

In Sri Lanka, European truce monitors overseeing a cease-fire between the government and separatist Tamil Tiger rebels have warned that the country may be moving back toward civil war. The warning comes as the international community calls for the two sides to hold peace talks.

In a statement Thursday, the Norwegian monitoring mission in Sri Lanka called for an immediate end to a recent wave of attacks that is threatening a four-year cease-fire in the country.

Otherwise, spokeswoman for the mission Helen Olafsdottir says, "War may not be far away."

"We have warned both parties that, if this violence continues, war is actually going to be inevitable, because this is spiraling out of control," said Helen Olafsdottir. "We are very concerned."

At least 83 people have been killed this month in the rebel dominated north and east, many of them security personnel. Twenty five soldiers died in the past week in two landmine attacks. The government blames the killings on the Tamil Tiger rebels. A pro-rebel member of parliament was gunned down on Christmas Day, and each side has accused the other of responsibility.

Ms. Olafsdottir says the truce monitors want direct talks between the two sides to arrest the growing violence.

"We are really desperate for a dialogue, and that is our message to the parties," she said. "They need to meet, and that has to happen, preferably, today."

The statement by the truce monitors came a day after Norway, which brokered the cease-fire, also said that the peace process was at risk, and there was no time to lose in resuming talks.

The Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapakse, who is visiting New Delhi, issued a joint call Wednesday with India for resumption of peace talks with the rebels.

But while both the Sri Lankan government and the rebels say they are committed to a dialogue, the distance between the two sides appears to be widening. The two sides have not yet been able to agree to a venue for the talks. The government wants to hold them in Asia, but the Tamil Tigers insist they should take place in Norway.

Rohan Edresinghe, with Colombo's Center for Policy Alternatives, says the chances for resumption of dialogue seem bleak, as neither side appears flexible.

"It looks as if hard-liners on both sides are in the ascendancy, and moderate ground on both sides is diminishing," he said.

President Rajapakse was elected last month, after promising to take a hard line with the rebels in peace negotiations. Soon after his election, the Tamil Tigers warned they would return to war in 2006, if their demands for an autonomous homeland are not fulfilled.

The ethnic conflict erupted in 1983, with the Tamil minority alleging discrimination by the Sinhalese majority.