European truce monitors demand release of security guards held captive by Tamil rebels
Fri October 15, 2004 02:08 EDT .
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) European truce monitors on Friday demanded the immediate release of two government security guards abducted by Tamil Tiger rebels two months ago, warning that the kidnappings damaged already strained relations between the two sides.
The rebels snatched the guards Aug. 10, saying they would be released if 10 insurgents being held by the government were freed. The guerrillas were being held on weapons charges.
On Thursday, the government released the 10 guerrillas on bail.
``They (Tamil Tigers) were expected to honor their side of the bargain,'' said Hagrup Haukland, the Norwegian deputy chief of the monitors, who are helping to maintain a two-year truce between the government and the rebels.
He warned the incident was ``damaging the trust between the government and the (rebels).''
The two guards Sarath Bandara and Chandana Piyasiri were employed to protect Sinhalese-majority villages around the eastern town of Trincomalee from rebel attacks. The Tigers maintain a strong presence in the east.
Their families and residents have staged protests and fasts to press for their release.
On Wednesday, shops and offices were closed and streets were deserted in Trincomalee as residents staged a daylong general strike to demand the guards' freedom.
The Tamil Tigers began their violent campaign against the government in 1983 to create a separate state for ethnic minority Tamils, accusing majority Sinhalese of discrimination.
About 65,000 people were killed in the conflict before the truce was signed in February 2002.
Subsequent peace talks broke down in April 2003 and efforts to resume negotiations have so far been futile amid sporadic violence and rebel demands for wide autonomy.
Published: Fri Oct 15 03:28:29 EDT 2004