Norway to send peace envoy to Sri Lanka

Concerned about violence straining Sri Lanka's 3-1/2-year truce with Tamil Tiger rebels, peace mediator Norway said on Friday it would send a special envoy to the island to try and ease tensions. Retired army Major-General Trond Furuhovde, the former head of the team of Nordic monitors who oversee the truce, will travel to Sri Lanka in October to consult the government and rebels, Norway's Foreign Ministry said in statement.

"The Royal Norwegian government is deeply concerned by the continuing violence in Sri Lanka over the past months, which undermines the ceasefire agreement," it said.

The statement came a day after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rejected Norway's call to hold emergency talks at the airport, Reuters says.

"We regret to conclude that the parties have not reached agreement on the venue for such a meeting at this juncture," the statement added. "Furuhovde will consult with both parties on the security situation and the implementation of the ceasefire agreement."

The government has insisted the talks be held in Sri Lanka, possibly in a heavily-mined no-man's land, while the Tigers want to either to host them in their northern stronghold of Kilinochchi or have them at a neutral venue abroad.

With Sri Lanka heading into a presidential election in November, diplomatic sources say at this rate the emergency talks might not happen at all.

Dozens of police, soldiers and rebel cadres have been killed since a 2002 ceasefire halted two decades of civil war in a silent conflict the Tigers and the military each blame on the other.

The rash of killings culminated in August in the assassination of the island's foreign minister, raising the spectre of a return to a war that has already killed over 64,000 people.

Norway has called a separate meeting of Sri Lanka's main donors - Japan, the United States, Norway and the European Union - in New York for Sept. 19 to discuss the precarious security situation.

On the photo: Major-General Trond Furuhovde.

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