Norwegian peace envoy postpones visit to Tamil rebel areas, 7 killed in violence
Mon December 4, 2006 07:04 EST .
Associated Press Writer
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Norway's envoy to Sri Lanka's faltering peace process postponed a visit to Tamil Tiger rebel territory on Monday after a request by the government, a spokesman for Norway's Embassy said, as ongoing violence in the country's east claimed at least seven lives.
Envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer is in Sri Lanka for talks with government and rebel officials about the country's imperiled 2002 cease-fire, amid the collapse of peace talks and a surge of violence that has killed 3,500 fighters and civilians since last December.
He was scheduled to travel Monday to northern Kilinochchi for talks with leaders of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE.
``We have been told not to visit the LTTE until the government holds its Cabinet meeting,'' embassy spokesman Erik Nurnberg said.
The request followed a suspected rebel suicide bombing last week that apparently targeted the country's defense secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, who is also the president's younger brother.
Three people were killed and 14 wounded, although Rajapakse escaped unhurt.
The government blamed the Tamil Tigers, renowned for suicide attacks during their more than two-decade armed campaign for an independent homeland for Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil minority in the northeast. The rebels, however, have made no comment on Friday's attack.
According to government officials, the Cabinet is likely to meet on Wednesday and discuss re-imposing a ban on the rebels.
The government withdrew its original ban on the Tigers as a terrorist organization in 2002 as part of the Norway-brokered cease-fire and peace process.
However, since the latest round of peace talks, held in Switzerland in October, failed to make any progress in moving the process forward, government-rebel relations have deteriorated.
In eastern Ampara, government soldiers clashed with suspected rebels on Monday, and at least six insurgents and a member of a special anti-terrorist force were killed, the Defense Ministry said.
The ministry's Media Center for National Security said the rebels fired at a Special Task Force patrol, wounding four commandos. Government forces retaliated, killing at least six rebels, the center said on its Web site. One of the wounded soldiers later died in a hospital, it said.
However, TamilNet, a pro-rebel Web site, reported that the Tamil Tigers repulsed the offensive, and that four troops were killed and eight seriously wounded. Three Tigers sustained minor injuries, it said.
Both sides routinely inflate the other's death tolls and independent confirmation is virtually impossible.
The government says it is willing to grant autonomy to areas where Tamils are in the majority, but the rebels insist on sweeping changes that the government says would infringe on the country's sovereignty.
Despite the recent violence, both sides insist they have not withdrawn from the truce.
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Published: Mon Dec 4 08:50:24 EST 2006