Mine blast kills 5 Sri Lankan soldiers in government-held northern town
Sat April 15, 2006 08:04 EDT .
DILIP GANGULY - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Suspected Tamil Tiger rebels exploded a mine targeting a bus carrying troops in northern Sri Lanka - on Saturday, killing five soldiers and wounding six others in the latest violence to threaten the island's fragile cease-fire. The attack comes amid some of the worst violence in Sri Lanka - since Norway brokered a February 2002 cease-fire between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels.
More than 45 people have been killed in the north and east since Monday in attacks blamed on rebels including a splinter group that broke away from the mainstream Tigers and fighting between ethnic Tamils and the island's majority Sinhalese.
The rebels have blamed government-backed paramilitary groups for the bloodshed, which has raised fears that the nation was on the verge of sliding back into civil war. The government denies that it backs any paramilitary groups.
Also Saturday, Tamil Tiger rebel commanders canceled a trip to an internal meeting that they had insisted is crucial for upcoming peace talks in Switzerland because they felt threatened by an approaching navy ship, according to a rebel statement.
The eight-day meetings were scheduled to start Saturday in the northern rebel-stronghold of Kilinochchi.
``They were getting onboard the ferry and suddenly they said they will not go because a Sri Lankan navy vessel was coming too close,'' said Helen Olafsdottir, a spokeswoman for the European mission observing the 2002 truce.
``We are not buying that because there was no risk as our monitors were aboard the naval vessel to ensure that nothing happens,'' Olafsdottir said.
The government said the guerrillas were told in advance that ships would be present to ensure the rebels' safety.
``The conditions for movement were clearly stipulated that the civilian ferry will be escorted by Sri Lankan navy craft to ensure its safe passage,'' a government statement said.
It wasn't clear if the trip will be rescheduled, or whether the rebels still plan to attend the April 24-25 peace talks with the government in Geneva.
A senior rebel official said they will not go to Geneva without first holding their central committee meeting.
``Without the meeting, there is no Geneva and no peace talks,'' Seevaratnam Puleedevan, head of the rebels' Peace Secretariat, told The Associated Press by phone from Kilinochchi.
The government accused the rebels of trying to derail the peace talks.
``There is a serious doubt if the LTTE wants to go to Geneva,'' Palitha Kohona, the chief of the government's Peace Secretariat, told reporters.
The government and the rebels agreed Friday to delay the three-day talks, initially scheduled to start Wednesday, after the guerrillas said the original dates conflicted with the meeting of their central committee.
The Tamil Tigers want to carve out a separate homeland for the country's 3.2 million minority ethnic Tamils, claiming discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.
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Published: Sat Apr 15 09:37:56 EDT 2006