Rebel mines killed six on Monday, Sri Lankan officials said, as separatist insurgents said they would not attend scheduled peace talks unless they are allowed secured passage to hold a crucial internal meeting. At least 50 people have been killed this week in a spike in violence ahead of peace talks scheduled in Geneva for April 24-25.
The squabble over the meeting is the latest dispute to strain relations between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who began fighting in 1983 for a separate state for minority Tamils, claiming discrimination by the island's Sinhalese majority. Rebel commanders on Saturday canceled a trip by sea to an internal meeting because they felt threatened by the presence of naval ships in the vicinity. The government said the four craft were there to ensure the rebels' safety.
Also Monday, a mine killed four soldiers in the northern town of Vavuniya, while two suspected rebels apparently accidentally blew themselves up while transporting a mine in northern Jaffna, police said. Another mine wounded three air force personnel, one critically, in a military bus passing through Batticaloa, said air force spokesman, Group Captain Ajantha Silva.
Tamil Tiger rebels formally told Norwegian peace brokers they will not attend the talks unless they can hold their meeting, according to a pro-Tamil Web site. As an alternate measure, Sri Lanka on Monday told Norwegian officials they could use private helicopters to transport Tiger commanders to their internal meeting.
"The Sri Lankan government is keen to have the peace talks, and we are going an extra mile to make the LTTE come to Geneva," said Palitha Kohona, head of government's peace secretariat. It wasn't immediately clear if the Norwegians or rebels agreed to the proposal.
Under the 2002 Norway-brokered truce that ended almost two decades of fighting, the government had been providing helicopters for top rebel officials traveling through government-held territory. The government has turned down several requests for air transport in the past, but started doing so with much more frequency after relations with the rebels became strained after a series of violent incidents since December, reports the AP.
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