/ 17 April 2006

Sri Lanka blasts kill eight as Tigers suspend peace talks

At least eight people were killed in two separate mine blasts in northern Sri Lanka on Monday, hours after Tiger rebels announced they are suspending participation in peace talks, the military said.

The latest deaths raised to 64 the number of people, mostly police or troops, killed in bomb attacks in the past week in the latest surge of violence linked to the decades-old Tamil separatist conflict.

On Sunday night the rebels said they were suspending their participation in talks set to take place in Switzerland next week on saving a shaky Norwegian-arranged truce that has been in place since February 2002.

Five of those killed on Monday were soldiers who died when a powerful Claymore landmine exploded near their truck in Vavuniya district, a military official said from the town of Vavuniya, 260km north of Colombo.

Seven soldiers were wounded in the attack, which the official blamed on Tamil Tiger guerrillas.

“They blocked the truck by driving a three-wheeler [taxi] across the road,” he said. “Within a few seconds the three-wheeler exploded.”

Another Claymore mine exploded further north in the Jaffna peninsula, killing the man who was carrying it and two others, a military source said.

Early investigations indicated the device was being set up to target a military convoy but had exploded prematurely, the source said.

A grenade exploded in the north-eastern town of Trincomalee on Monday but there were no casualties, police said.

The United Nations agency for children, Unicef, said a child soldier of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was among recent mine victims and demanded that the guerrillas demobilise all underage combatants.

“Recruitment of children is a direct violation of their right to protection from violence,” Unicef said. “Unicef calls on the LTTE to immediately release all under-age recruits within its ranks and to cease recruitment of children.”

The LTTE on Sunday night announced in a letter to peace broker Norway that they would not attend the talks in Switzerland until Colombo removed “restrictions” on their cadres.

“We … wish to inform you with sadness that until the hurdles in front of us to attend Geneva talks are removed and a more conducive environment created, our Geneva team is unable to come to the Geneva talks,” the Tigers said.

“While the government of Sri Lanka is holding well published ‘all party conferences’ prior to the Geneva talks, it is placing all of these hurdles to prevent us from holding even a central committee meeting of our leadership.”

The Tigers had said they wanted internal consultations between field commanders before the Swiss talks but the navy had imposed conditions on their transport arrangements.

The government on Saturday accused the Tigers of making flimsy excuses to stay away from the Swiss talks and insisted that no new conditions had been placed on the guerrillas.

The rebels stopped short of completely pulling out of the talks, scheduled for two days from April 24. The talks were originally due to start on Wednesday and to last three days, but were scaled down to two days and postponed.

The government’s top peace negotiator said the LTTE had stepped up their attacks because they were not serious about attending the negotiations.

“I believe the ball is now in their court,” said Palitha Kohona. “We are doing everything to go to Geneva for the talks but we can’t clap with one hand. There must be commitment by both sides.”

More than 60 000 people have been killed in three decades of ethnic bloodshed between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils. – AFP