Norway "deeply concerned" about escalating violence in Sri Lanka

Norway is "deeply concerned" about escalating violence in Sri Lanka's north and east, a Norwegian Embassy statement said Thursday, after Oslo-led peace monitors warned that a recent spike in attacks could re-ignite the tropical island's civil war. Norway's ambassador to Sri Lanka, Hans Brattskar, was headed Thursday to the northern city of Jaffna for meetings with Sri Lankan military generals and government officials. He was also expected to meet Friday with S.P. Thamilselvan, chief of the rebels' political wing.

The visit follows a spate of attacks in northern Sri Lanka this week that killed 15 soldiers and a civilian and wounded eight others. "The Norwegian government is deeply concerned by the escalation of violence in the north and east," said a statement issued by the Norwegian Embassy ahead of Brattskar's visit.

Norway brokered a 2002 cease-fire that halted the two-decade civil war and arranged six rounds of peace talks between the rebels and the government. The talks broke down after the rebels presented wide-ranging demands for autonomy in the northeast, where most of Sri Lanka's 3.2 million Tamils live.

Newly elected Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse met with Brattskar on Wednesday and asked Norway to continue facilitating the peace process with the Tamil Tigers, an apparent reversal of Rajapakse's campaign position against Olso's continued participation. Norway, however, said it would wait for a formal request from both sides before resuming its role as peace broker. Brattskar "will therefore not be carrying messages between the two parties in the peace process, until consultations on the future Norwegian role has taken place," the embassy statement said. Details of what Brattskar would discuss on his trip were not available.

Earlier this week, two land mine attacks by suspected Tamil Tigers killed 15 soldiers in the Jaffna Peninsula. The guerrillas denied involvement.

Another attack Wednesday killed one civilian and wounded eight people, including a soldier, in northern Vavuniya town, 210 kilometers (130 miles) north of the capital Colombo, the military said. Hagrup Haukland, who heads the international cease-fire monitors, warned Wednesday that further attacks could derail Sri Lanka's efforts to permanently end the island's civil war.

"The escalating violence is jeopardizing the cease-fire and is also endangering the whole peace process," Haukland said, reports the AP. I.L.

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