Top Norwegian envoy to visit Sri Lanka as violence escalates

A top Norwegian envoy who brokered a cease-fire between Tamil Tiger rebels and the government will visit Sri Lanka in late January, Norway's Embassy said, as European truce monitors warned a return to civil war may not be far away. Eric Solheim will meet with representatives from both sides of the conflict during his Jan. 23-26 visit.

"I am deeply concerned about the recent increase in violence in Sri Lanka," Solheim said in a statement released late Thursday.

"It is urgent to get the two parties to sit down together to discuss how to ensure that the cease-fire is observed and how the peace process can be advanced," he said. Attacks blamed on the Tamil Tigers have left 45 government soldiers dead this month in an escalation of violence. The government has claimed killing seven guerillas in the same period.

Solheim helped broker the February 2002 cease-fire that halted nearly two decades of bloodshed in Sri Lanka that cost 65,000 lives.

European truce monitors warned Thursday a return to civil war may be imminent as Sri Lanka's military announced it recovered four anti-personnel mines set to explode near passing military convoys. The army said the Claymores were planted by the Tigers. "If this trend of violence is allowed to continue, war may not be far away," said Hagrup Haukland, the chief of a group of truce monitors drawn from five Nordic countries.

The rebels have fought the government since 1983 demanding a separate state for ethnic minority Tamils alleging discrimination by majority Sinhalese. They say Tamils can prosper only away from Sinhalese domination, reports the AP. I.L.

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