International group supporting Sri Lanka's peace process demand end to rebel violence

An international group supporting Sri Lanka's peace process on Tuesday demanded the island's ethnic Tamil insurgents end their violence and warned of consequences if they failed to comply. Norway, Japan, the European Union and the United States urged Tamil Tiger guerrillas to "put an immediate end to their ongoing campaign of violence" and demonstrate commitment to a 2002 Norway-brokered cease-fire with the government.

"Failure to demonstrate a willingness to change would not be without serious consequences," the group said in a statement after meeting in Brussels on Monday. The statement comes as increased violence puts the cease-fire under heavy strain. Rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran also warned last month that his group would step up its struggle for an independent homeland next year if the government does not address the grievances of ethnic minority Tamils.

Newly elected President Mahinda Rajapakse has said his government is prepared to do so, but not at the cost of dividing Sri Lanka along ethnic lines. "Sri Lanka is facing a crucial choice between increased violence and reinvigorating the peace process," the statement said. "The Sri Lankan people want peace. A failure to respond to this desire would be a tragic step backward."

Since Dec. 4, at least 18 government soldiers have died in attacks blamed on the rebels. On Tuesday, militant Tamil youths attacked a Sri Lankan police jeep with clubs, chains and stones in the northern city of Jaffna injuring at least two policemen, according to the Defense Ministry.

The incident in Jaffna, 300 kilometers (186 miles) north of Colombo, follows a military crackdown on a students' demonstration Monday, when soldiers fired into the air to disperse protesters who were demanding that Sri Lanka's army withdraw from the Tamil-majority region, reports the AP. I.L.

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