Sri Lanka's president meets with Norway's ambassador

Sri Lanka's president met with Norway's ambassador Wednesday as Norwegian-led peace monitors warned that escalating violence could plunge the tropical island back into civil war. The meeting between Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar followed two land mine attacks earlier this week by suspected Tamil Tiger rebels that killed 15 soldiers in the northern Jaffna Peninsula. The guerrillas deny involvement.

Presidential spokesman Bandula Jayasekara declined to comment on the meeting between Rajapakse and Brattskar, but Hagrup Haukland, who heads the international cease-fire monitors, warned that further attacks could derail Sri Lanka's efforts to permanently end the two-decade civil war.

"The escalating violence is jeopardizing the cease-fire and is also endangering the whole peace process," Haukland said. Rajapakse was elected president last month on a promise that he would not allow the island nation of 19 million people to be divided along ethnic lines. The Tamil Tigers began fighting in 1983 for a separate homeland for the country's Tamil minority, complaining of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese. Norway brokered a truce in 2002, but the rebels walked out of peace talks a year later over their demand for greater autonomy in the Tamil-majority north and east.

Haukland commended Sri Lanka's security forces for reacting with restraint after the land mine blasts on Sunday and Tuesday, and urged the authorities to immediately apprehend the culprits. "The situation in Jaffna continues to be tense, and we are doing everything possible to prevent further attacks and bring about normalcy," military spokesman Brig. Nalin Witharanagee said.

Meanwhile, Japanese peace envoy Yasushi Akashi was scheduled to arrive late Wednesday on a five-day visit to meet with Rajapakse and other top officials, a Japanese Embassy statement said. Japan is Sri Lanka's top aid source.

Akashi, a frequent visitor to Sri Lanka, will likely call for reduced tensions and a return to the peace talks. It was not immediately known if he will travel to the rebel capital of Kilinochchi to meet with Tamil Tiger leaders.

Also Wednesday, Maj. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the military's top commander, was meeting with local military leaders in Jaffna on ways to prevent further rebel attacks against military personnel, reports the AP. I.L.

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