Police use force to disperse anti-rebel protesters in eastern Sri Lanka
Fri November 26, 2004 09:06 EST .
KRISHAN FRANCIS - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Police used tear gas and batons to disperse protesters in an eastern Sri Lankan town Friday when the crowd defied authorities and tried to confront Tamil Tiger rebels commemorating their fallen comrades, an official said. Violence has been on the rise in Sri Lanka - 's Tamil-majority north and east ahead of birthday celebrations for the Tamil Tiger rebels' reclusive leader, Vellupillai Prabhakaran.
Prabhakaran turned 50 on Friday, but festivities were expected to peak Saturday, when he is to deliver a policy speech and honor some 18,000 Tamil guerrillas killed in nearly two decades of civil war.
In separate attacks Wednesday and Thursday, unidentified gunmen fatally shot four people in the north and east, and eight more suffered injuries in fighting between civilians and government forces in Mannar town in northern Sri Lanka - .
The clash in Mannar began when the military prevented Tamil rebels from hoisting their flag in government-held territory. According to a Norwegian-brokered cease-fire agreement signed in February 2002, the rebels cannot raise their flag in areas held by government troops.
The rebels' political chief, S.P Thamilselvan, warned that the incident could ``create a totally undesirable confrontational position,'' the pro-rebel Web site TamilNet reported.
But a military spokesman said government forces were prepared for anything.
``We don't expect any major law and order problem, but we are ready,'' Brig. Daya Ratnayake said.
Meanwhile, government troops and the rebels agreed at a meeting Friday to hold discussions regularly until the rebel celebrations are over to prevent violence, truce monitors said. Sri Lanka - Monitoring Mission chief Trond Furuhovde chaired the meeting.
Prabhakaran founded the Liberation Tigers of Tamileelam in 1976, and in 1983 the movement began fighting to create a separate state for Sri Lanka - 's 3.2 million Tamils. Some 65,000 people died in the conflict before the 2002 truce.
While not all Tamils back Prabhakaran, many say they are oppressed by the country's majority Sinhalese.
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Published: Fri Nov 26 10:35:19 EST 2004